Set in the early 2000s, Freeheld is the story of Laurel Hester (Julianne Moore), a New Jersey police detective and in-the-closet lesbian who has kept her sexual orientation secret from her partner, Dane Wells (Michael Shannon), for all her years on the force. She meets Stacie Andree (Ellen Page), a much younger lesbian and the two gradually fall in love. A year later, the two have moved in together and, with Stacie’s encouragement, Hester slowly reveals her sexual orientation.
Tragedy strikes in 2005 when Laurel is diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, and following this she requests to leave her pension to her domestic partner, Stacie. However, traditionalist Republican country legislators deny her request and what follows is a battle in which Laurel, Stacie and Dane, with the help of flamboyant Jewish gay rights activist and founder of Garden State Equality, Steven Goldstein (played by the talented Steve Carrell) must fight for justice, which leads to a wider comment on the fight for gay marriage.
Hester’s legal victory is as predictable from the tone of the movie as the impending tragedy that is her death. The film also perhaps labels the divide between its heroes and villains too simplistically; the ‘true story’ had much more nuance and complexity. However, in spite of these failings, director Peter Sollett should be given credit for avoiding easy traps that could have manipulated the audience, such as when Hester is diagnosed with lung cancer. The deterioration of Hester’s health is indeed a point of pathos as the film progresses, but the true magic of the film comes from the poignant performances of Moore and Paige, both in their chemistry and separately. Overall, it is a very personal and subtle love story between two ordinary individuals that has a wider meaning for those battling for justice and gay rights.
Image: Gage Skidmore; Flickr.com