Director: Peter Sollett
Stars: Julianne Moore, Ellen Page
2 (out of 5) Globes
Like “Still Alice,” “Freeheld” makes us watch Julianne Moore at her rarely more personable fade away slowly and tragically. The difference is the disease is cancer, which means it becomes a more physical acting exercise: losing hair, slimming down, wheezing, being gradually reduced to nothing. And the movie itself, unlike “Still Alice,” is crude — an activist film where the activism takes precedence over artistry, and where fine actors (including Michael Shannon, mostly wasted but periodically commanding) are there more to finesse and charm their way over copious rough patches.
Moore is too good for “Freeheld,” but she doesn’t hold back. She’s electric as Laurel Hester, a tough and storied New Jersey detective rocking a Farah Fawcett coif flip in 2003. She meets-cute with Stacie Andree (Ellen Page), a Butch lesbian, and the two begin a whirlwind romance hampered by Laurel’s reluctance to come out of the closet, at least publicly. Laurel drives way out of her way to cruise for chicks and refuses to let Stacie answer the phone lest anyone know her secret. When they move in together, she calls her her roommate, and only belatedly spills the beans to her work partner, Dane (Shannon), both parties are hurt — Dane for her lack of trust, Stacie for Laurel’s unthinking terminology. “He’s my partner,” Laurel assures Stacie. “No,” she replies. I’m your partner.”
That on-the-nose-ness is par for course for “Freeheld”’s dialogue, from the guy who wrote the slightly more sophisticated (but not by much) “Philadelphia.” But if it starts as one kind of Lifetime movie, it soon shifts into another. Laurel, a habitual stress-smoker, contracts late-stage lung cancer, only to find the board of five (white, male, mostly old) county freeholders would not bequeath Stacie, who had become her domestic partner, with her pension due to a technicality. The rest of “Freeheld” jostles between Laurel quickly dying and the movement to demand an overturning. Most of the men are portrayed as simple, hissable monsters. The most egregious (Tom McGowan) cites “religious freedom,” which makes for good timing; the most likable (Josh Charles) is pro-Laurel but out-numbered and scared of a looming re-election.