Nights In

Review: freeheld

Last year was a landmark year for LGBT rights across the world. We celebrated the historic result of our own referendum, the US made same sex marriage legal nationwide and countries like Spain and Italy lifted the ban on gay men donating blood. 
 
In a time when these milestones which would have been thought impossible previously, have been accomplished, it can be just as important to look back at the beginnings of these movements.
 
That is exactly what the latest drama from director Peter Sollett, Freeheld, aimed to do. 
 
Freeheld is the true story of New Jersey Ocean County detective Laurel Hester, played by Julianne Moore, and her partner Stacie Andree, played by Ellen Page. 
 
Hester and Andree were given a domestic civil partnership in the state of New Jersey, as gay marriage was not legal at the time in the US. 
Hester was diagnosed with stage four terminal lung cancer in 2005. 
 
Following this, the couple found themselves embroiled in legal disputes with the Ocean County Board of Chosen Freeholders to ensure Andree would be able to claim Hester’s pension benefits following her death. 
 
This was an undisputed entitlement for heterosexual married couples whose partners were in that county’s police force at the time.
 
Ultimately after several refusals and a national news story in the States, Andree was granted pension benefits. Hester passed away from her cancer on February 18th 2006. 
 
The movie itself is one with a substantial amount of above average acting with only slight amounts of comic relief from funny man Steve Carrell.
 
Carrell plays the homosexual, Jewish founder of Garden State Equality, Steven Goldstein. Moore provides a determined performance and it’s clear the role of Hester is one she invested a great deal of personal connections with. She portrays Hester better in her professional life as a detective rather than the off duty partner seen on screen with Page. 
 
More positively, Page gives a truly brilliant performance as Hester’s younger partner, Stacie Andree. From the nerdy, shy, introvert seen when the characters first meet at a volleyball game, through the turmoil of the legal disputes and her partner’s treatment, we see Page portray her character growing in confidence in her job as a mechanic, but also struggling to cope with her personal life. 
 
Page can be seen as the weaker character initially, but she grows to become a mentally strong individual by the end of the film. 
 
Throughout the course of the film, acknowledgements are made of the struggles faced by homosexuals within the police force as well the wider community and legal systems. 
 
For example, it’s shown that one of Hester’s male colleagues is also gay. They agree early on in the movie to keep each other’s secret after spotting each other in a nightclub with their partners.
 
Every time Hester and Andree say they are a couple in public they are confronted with “Oh… I’m sorry” with a shocked expression on the individual’s face. 
 
Further points are illustrated by Page’s character dealing with the hospital receptionist over the phone, who won’t let her speak to the doctor on the grounds that she is not legally family, and arguing with the insurance company over the extension of Hester’s life insurance policy.
 
The movie succeeds in telling the heartbreaking story of Hester and Andree, but ultimately I feel that is about it. 
 
Apart from a few shining moments of brilliance from Page, the majority of the acting is only slightly above average. There are impassioned performances, but most of the minor actors and their performances feel completely synthetic and utterly generic. 
 
All the same go see it, go and allow yourself to be moved by it, but don’t expect something 100% fresh or original. 
 
I’ll give it a solid 6 out of 10.