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Freeheld Review

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Fatally ill detective Laurel Hester (Moore) fights for her partner Stacie (Page) to receive her benefits after her death, against an uncaring establishment that refuses to recognize their relationship.

★★★★★

Thanks goodness for Steve Carell. He brings a zap of much needed energy to a movie that is otherwise ably told and exceptionally well acted, but oppressively earnest.

Based on a true story, Moore plays Laurel Hester, a New Jersey detective who keeps her lesbianism a secret from her conservative colleagues. Even when she meets and falls in love with a young mechanic, Stacie (Page), she can’t bring herself to tell the truth for fear of stalling the career for which she’s worked so hard. However, when Laurel is diagnosed with cancer she fights for Stacie to be given her pension benefits after her death, something the state government refuses same sex couples, and becomes a reluctant gay rights figurehead. Carell is the hugely camp LGBT activist who gets wind of their cause and sweeps in to make it national news and get much better lines than everybody else.

Steve Carell might be in a different film, but his is by far the more fun.

Carell might be in a different film, and a not particularly subtle one, but his is by far the more fun. There’s almost no joy written in for Hester and Stacie. They go through every stage of their relationship in a fug of discomfort, either with the world or each other. They’re kind of a drag, even in the early flirty stages, and Peter Sollett’s uninteresting direction pushes so hard for the tearjerking moments that it has the effect of deadening them. He doesn’t earn a big emotional pay off but he’s determined to have it anyway, by wheeling Julianne Moore, bald and wheezing, in a wheelchair into a crowded courtroom.

Even if the script and direction don’t deserve of them, you still can’t go too far wrong giving the heavy lifting to Julianne Moore and Ellen Page. Page has to fill in a lot of Stacie’s blanks herself and gives a quietly angry performance, while Moore keeps Hester as subtle as the script will allow. Whatever the film’s faults, their performances are still worthy of note.

Strong subject matter and a superb cast are treated disappointingly with sledgehammer subtlety.

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