DVD Review - Freeheld (2015)

It's two movies for the price of one. Not literally, but this film feels like one thing at the start until it pivots and begins to feel like something else.

There are clearly two halves. The first is enjoyable. The second attempts to re-create the Oscar-winning documentary Freeheld (2007) on which this narrative is based. It does so with diminishing returns until eventually collapsing under its own weight and certainly not packing as emotional a punch, even if you haven't seen the 2007 short subject.

Julianne Moore (Boogie Nights and Still Alice) stars as Laurel Hester, a detective with the Ocean County Police Department in New Jersey. She's served in the police force for over 20 years. She's very good, very tough and very capable. She looks a little like Farrah Fawcett from Charlie's Angels or something. Laurel has a secret though. She hides the fact that she's gay.

Ellen Page (Juno and Inception) co-stars as Stacie Andree, a mechanic from Pennsylvania who likes to play volleyball and dance to country music. She falls for Laurel after meeting at a game in Philadelphia. They start dating, despite the age gap. They eventually buy a house and move in together. The only real problem is Stacie's desire to be out and open, whereas Laurel wants to stay in the closet.

The film focuses more on Laurel at first, so much that the whole thing feels like it's going to be about a female detective in the early 2000's solving crimes, while reconciling her sexuality as being a part of her identity. Oscar-nominee Michael Shannon (Revolutionary Road and Man of Steel) plays Dane Wells, the detective who works with Laurel on cases. He's her partner on the force and comes off as a very masculine, old school-thinking kind of guy. Luke Grimes (Brothers & Sisters and True Blood) plays a newly-minted, NJ detective who is also secretly gay but he's even further in the closet than Laurel.

Having Laurel in the middle of these two guys and there being a divide among the police are barely touched in this film. It could have been an interesting and compelling narrative, but the movie doesn't really go there. It abandons Laurel as lesbian detective and makes the film a carbon copy of Philadelphia (1993). It's not surprising given the writer here is Ron Nyswaner, the Oscar-nominated screenwriter of that 1993 film. Nyswaner penned the Tom Hanks flick where he plays a white professional who becomes terminally ill but faces discrimination for being gay and has to battle it in a legal proceeding.

Tom Hanks' role becomes Julianne Moore's in this film's second half. After that, it has a lot of echoes to the documentary, but that's all it is. It's echoes. It doesn't have or simply isn't the full range of sound that the documentary has or is. It tries to give us more by taking us a little behind the scenes of the other side.

Josh Charles (The Good Wife and Masters of Sex) plays Bryan Kelder, a man known as a Freeholder. A Freeholder is an elected person who sits in the county legislatures in New Jersey and is an administrator for county matters. When Laurel gets sick and is diagnosed with lung cancer, he and the other four Freeholders for Ocean County have to decide if Stacie gets Laurel's pension benefits.

In the documentary, the Freeholders just sit in the front of the board room and listen to Laurel and Stacie make their arguments. Here, we follow Bryan and go home with him in a sense. We learn a bit about his family. Nyswaner doesn't do enough with this character. Nyswaner could have made him the Denzel Washington-equivalent from Philadelphia, but quite frankly he wastes time with another character who isn't that compelling.

Steve Carell (Foxcatcher and Little Miss Sunshine) plays Steven Goldstein, the head of Garden State Equality, the advocacy group that stages protests in support of Laurel and Stacie. The Freeholders deny the pension, which is money that automatically goes to spouses of Ocean County police. This movie takes place between 2000 and 2006, before legalization of same-sex marriage. Laurel and Stacie get a domestic partnership, which is supposed to be analogous to marriage but cases like this prove it's not. Steven pushes to change that.

Carell has moments that are funny like when he flirts with Shannon and Charles' characters, but other than that, his amount of screen-time is rather unnecessary.

Two Stars out of Five.
Rated PG-13 for some thematic elements, language and sexuality.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 43 mins.


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