One of the few disappointments at the Edmonton International Film Festival was watching Freeheld. An indie film about gay rights starring Julianne Moore, Ellen Page and Michael Shannon could have been a classic (I know, high expectations never helps). Instead, this true story about Laurel Hester (Moore), a lesbian police officer in New Jersey who is diagnosed with cancer in 2005 and fights to get the county’s freeholders to allow her pension to go to her partner, Stacie (Page), if she dies takes the route of appealing to the widest possible audience. The result is a formulaic biography that lacks intensity and emotion.
I suppose I can’t blame the filmmaker (Peter Sollett) too much for wanting this important story to be viewed by a large audience rather than by a typically-small arthouse crowd. And if this was made-for-TV (which is what it felt like), it would be a very good film. And I won’t blame the acting, which is solid enough (at least by the actors mentioned above). I especially enjoyed Shannon’s performance as Dane Wells, Hester’s longtime job partner and friend, who knew nothing of Hester’s sexual orientation until after the diagnosis. Shannon usually plays eccentric characters and it’s great to see him play a more typical role. But I will blame those who decided to forego creativity in the way they told this important story.
Despite lacking style and feeling, Freeheld remains a film worth watching that I hope will attract the wide audience it’s playing for. A solid ***. My mug is up.