At the Movies 2016: Freeheld

USA 2015
Written by Ron Nyswaner
Directed by Peter Sollett
Watched on 06.04.2016

If I would use headlines to introduce my reviews, the one for “Freeheld” would read “Julianne Moore and Ellen Page shine in an otherwise muddled, uneven drama”. Because apart from the fact that the true story behind this film definitely is notable, it’s really the lead performances by Moore and Page that (barely) save the day.

One of my main problems with “Freeheld” was how it seemed to constantly shift from one type of movie to the next, never really amounting to a coherent, convincing whole. It starts off as a cop procedural, then its a romantic comedy about a lesbian couple. After a one year time jump and with Laurel’s cancer diagnosis, it becomes a drama about disease, before turning into a courtroom drama. And whenever Steve Carell turns up, it’s suddenly a comedy. All these shifts in theme and tone gave me the impression that “Freeheld” doesn’t really know what kind of movie it wants to be, and I don’t quite see why they couldn’t just start with Laurel and Stacie already being a couple. The most aggravating part of the movie, however, is everything around Steve Carell. They probably were afraid that without some comic relief, “Freeheld” would turn out to be too serious, but he just doesn’t fit into the movie at all. Whenever he shows up, he turns it into a circus. I for one felt his presence to be extremely annoying and disruptive. I also think that “Freeheld” is one of these movies that are preaching to the choir, but I don’t really see it reaching people that don’t already agree with its central message. It also suffers from the fact that IMHO we had many better and more impressive movies in recent years when it comes to same-sex relationships, and the struggles that lie therein. There definitely is a certain “by the numbers” and “been there, done that”-character to the movie that prevents it from really standing out. And finally, I found “Freeheld” to be rather predictable, which also meant that the setbacks that Laurel and Stacie face didn’t really hit me emotionally.

Having said all that, it’s still an ok movie that tells an important story about two women facing an incredible injustice, and fighting against it. For me, however, what worked best about “Freeheld” was the story about Laurel’s terminal illness, and how both characters deal with that. That was the most human and universal part of the story, and the stuff that really connected with me (so much so that I found the hearings to be rather distracting). In those moments, “Freeheld” worked incredibly well and really managed to move me. This is mostly due to Julianne Moore and Ellen Page, who – despite the fact that they both definitely make an odd couple (and not just because of their age gap) – really sold me on Laurel and Stacie’s relationship, and the feelings that they have for each other. Both give really strong performances, and even though by now, we expect nothing less from them, it’s nevertheless worth pointing out. Julianne Moore, shortly after “Still Alice” (which was a better movie overall), again plays a woman struggling with illness, and it’s hard to not feel for Laurel while witnessing her decline. However, Ellen Page (who, I imagine, must have found it quite liberating to finally play a character whose sexual orientation matches hers) is just as great as a young woman who finds love, and then has to face the fact that it’s going to be taken away from her so soon. If anything, her character is even more thinly sketched than Laurel, but she really gives it her all. Whenever they shared the screen, “Freeheld” came to life in a way that the rest of the movie could only dream of. Too bad, then, that said scenes were few and far between.


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