The UK release of Freeheld feels ill-timed. Fresh off of Todd Haynes’ critically acclaimed and multi-award nominated Carol, which also tells the story of two women falling in love, it was almost inevitable that this would struggle to escape the long shadow cast by the former film.
This is indeed the case, Freeheld failing to portray the same levels of intimacy and electricity of Carol’s two leads, let alone its stunning cinematography. Instead, it’s a very televisual, self-conscious telling of what is obviously an important story.
The fact that Freeheld is based on a true story, is the only real edge it has over the competition. This isn’t just a story about two people of the same sex falling in love with each other, but rather how their love changed the political state of play in terms of how a gay relationship could be recognised in American law.
Julianne Moore plays Laurel Hester, a police officer who meets and soon falls in love with Ellen Page’s Stacie Andree. Having kept her sexuality hidden from her colleagues on the force for twenty-three years, from fear of career-ruining prejudice, Hester struggles at first to keep her new relationship a secret, which puts a strain on the pair.
However, when Hester is diagnosed with cancer, a battle begins with the police force and the state freeholders, as her request to have her pension given to Stacie is denied – mainly due to the fact that the two women aren’t married. As Laurel continues her struggle with illness, her story sparks support from the gay community who are striving to make same-sex marriage legal, with Laurel soon becoming the face of the campaign.
As you can tell, there’s a lot going on in terms of Freeheld’s narrative and director Peter Sollett struggles to find a balance between the various plot threads. With a script that is all over the place, it’s difficult to decipher who and what is the film’s main focus.
It begins with a focus on the central relationship between Laurel and Stacie – one which never feels believable due to the lack of chemistry between Moore and Page – but as the narrative shifts toward the political elements of the picture, the main characters have all but vanished to make room for Laurel’s work partner and friend, Dane Wells – played by an excellent Michael Shannon – and the equal rights activist, Steven Goldstein – played by an out of place Steve Carell.
Considering all of its promise of a female-driven drama, to see the two actresses get pushed aside so that the male characters can sort everything out, is almost as disappointing as the patchy and uneven way in which the story unfolds – the main example of this is a thread that follows one of Laurel’s investigations, which is abandoned midway through the film only to reappear at the very end, by which time we’ve completely forgotten what was going on anyway.
Whilst the true story feels huge, Freeheld manages to make it feel small and contained; as if the film-makers themselves are acknowledging that it belongs on the television as opposed to the cinema: It isn’t until the end credits roll, which are accompanied by pictures of the people depicted in the film, that it really hits home at how tragic their story really is. Despite the cast’s best efforts, this fails to do that story justice, and that is a terrible shame.
Image credit to http://www.impawards.com