Genre: Biography, Drama, Romance
Director: Peter Sollet
Writer: Ron Nyswaner
Cinematography: Maryse Alberti
FREEHELD has its noble cause based on a harrowing but also inspiring true event, the fight for equality of a cancer-ridden police officer Laurel Hester (Moore) and her partner Stacie Andree (Page), Laurel intends to leave her pension to Stacie after her death, but the main barrier is Board of Chosen Freeholders of Ocean County, New Jersey, where those freeholders reject to grant the transferring benefit to one’s domestic partner.
The story has already been made into an Oscar-winning documentary short with the same name by Cynthia Wade in 2007, so this project shapes up to be a tailor-made Oscar bait, script is written by Ron Nyswaner, who penned another LGBT tearjerker PHILADELPHIA in 1993 and is nominated for an Oscar; director Peter Sollett’s previous work NICK AND NORAH’S INFINITE PLAYLIST (2008) is a charming indie hit, and Linda Perry contributes the theme song HANDS OF LOVE with Miley Cyrus as the performer. As for our two leading ladies, FREEHELD marks a high-profile follow-up after Moore’s overdue Oscar victory in STILL ALICE (2014) and a career-boost to her 27-year younger co-star Ellen Page, who gallantly came out in 2014 and has been involved with the film for six years, plus with Shannon and Carrell on board, it has all the potential to be another THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT (2010), but it gets a cold shoulder as soon as it debuts in Toronto last year, completely goes off the radar in the awards season afterwards.
Fairly speaking, the film is a dependable drama, faithfully spoon-feeds the story from Laurel and Stacie’s encounter, the usual trajectory of their romance, Laurel’s closeted defence against the glass-ceiling in the police department, to the tragic part where a terminal cancer cast its shadow to their life, and the subsequent battle to buck the trend with the help of Laurel’s working-partner Dane Wells (Shannon), Steven Goldstein (Carell), a radical gay-marriage advocate and the founder of Garden State Equality and a conscientious freeholder Bryan Kelder (Charles). Overall Sollett plays safe to the material itself but Nyswaner’s script fails to lift the source above its banal biographical mechanism, despite there is a sterling cast at hand. Moore staunchly challenges a more butch attitude in Laurel, whose controlling nature is very much at odds with the submissive and meek Jules in THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT, but the enormous age difference and Page’s juvenile tomboy guise (has she even grown from JUNO 2007?) are not in favour of registering ample chemistry between them although for Page, her performance is less calculated and reflects her true nature. Shannon has no slack in playing a cardboard virtuous person, but Carell does chew up the scenery in his comic relief turn.
Laurel and Stacie’s fight bears out a significant moment in human history, although marriage equality has already been legalised for USA citizens prior to the film’s release date, bigotry and prejudice against LGBT people (as portrayed in the picture) is still rampant, notably in these backward areas and among those narrow-minded, not to mention the bigger picture in a global scale, there is still a long long way to fight, that why this sub-genre is still essential in our contemporary cinematic domain. So this movie underachieves to be a top-tier contender, but we do need films like this, heralded by Hollywood big names to leaven the mainstream market, wherever we are, diversity matters!