Magazine article Variety

Freeheld

Magazine article Variety

Freeheld

Article excerpt

TORONTO

Freeheld

DIRECTOR: Peter Sollett

STARRING: Julianne Moore, Ellen Page

It may be a sign of the sweeping changes that have occurred in the gay-rights arena that "Freeheld" - a fact-based drama about two New Jersey women who fought for due recognition of their domestic partnership in the mid-2000s - at times plays like a period piece, populated by cardboard bigots, flamboyant gay crusaders and other hoary relics of a less enlightened past. That may be cause for societal celebration, but it's hardly an artistic compliment. Despite a credible and moving love story driven by strong performances from Julianne Moore and Ellen Page, director Peter Sollett's film is an oppressively worthy and self-satisfied inspirational vehicle that views its story primarily as a series of teachable moments, all but congratulating viewers for their moral and ideological superiority to roughly half the people onscreen. The Supreme Court's recent landmark ruling in favor of marriage equality will lend some topical traction, and the film's undeniably stirring moments will likely overwhelm lukewarm critical response where word of mouth is concerned.

Laurel Hester had spent 23 years as an Ocean County P.D. detective when she was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer, at which point she formally requested her pension benefits be extended to her domestic partner, Stacie Andree. A panel of five Republican county legislators, or freeholders, rejected her bid, but the couple fought back, their case made national headlines, and the freeholders reversed their decision in January 2006, setting a precedent in the same-sex marriage debate - less than a month before Hester's death at age 49. (The events were covered in Cynthia Wade's Oscar-winning 2007 short documentary of the same title.) Coming off her Oscarwinning turn as an Alzheimer's patient in "Still Alice," Moore gets to waste away even more vividly onscreen as Laurel; the character's final moments, which Moore performs with head completely shaved, her face hidden by a hospital mask and her voice an unintelligible rasp, are genuinely stark and unsettling to behold.

"Freeheld" seems to be toggling among three different and largely incongruous modes, from tacky culture-clash comedy to noisy community-room drama (shades of Ron Nyswaner's 1993 "Philadelphia" script) to grim terminal-illness weepie. …

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