Julianne Moore and Ellen Page play an intergenerational lesbian couple in Freeheld, an edge-of-your-seat romance in which the older Moore plays Laurel Hester, a courageous cop, and Page plays Stacie, a mechanic who can outdo any man in the garage. The film is based on a true story beginning in 2002, when marriage equality was still years away.
The pair registers as domestic partners in conservative Ocean County, New Jersey, where they work and build a home together. When Laurel is diagnosed with terminal cancer, the all-male, hetero-identified county council unanimously denies Stacie the right to Laurel’s pension at the time she will pass away. Though wives and husbands had the right to a dead spouse’s pension at that point in the ’00s in New Jersey, gay domestic partners did not share that right.
Freeheld takes flight as its legal battle royal unfolds. Director Peter Sollett never gives over overwrought melodrama. The partners are authentic and vulnerable. Moore graphically reveals the deterioration of Laurel’s illness. Page is devastating as a young lesbian who has been sheltered from the official lesbiphobic realities built into our social and legal systems. Michael Shannon is splendid as Laurel’s police partner. She never has come out to him, but when she does so, he steps up to the plate in an unexpectedly brave and decisive way.
In the major supporting role of Steven Goldstein, a rabble-rousing Jewish gay activist, Steve Carell shines and inspires. The actors playing the Ocean County freeholders (councilmen) bring a range of attitudes that are quite interesting, showing various ways in which lesbiphobia can manifest.
Screenwriter Ron Nyswaner is sharply focused on the injustice at hand and is deeply empathic. Nyswaner wrote the scripts for two other queer landmark films: Philadelphia and Soldier’s Girl, not to mention Gillian Armstrong’s feminist masterpiece, Mrs. Soffel, with Diane Keaton in one of her greatest performances. So as you would expect, Freeheld, is yet another Nyswaner emotional powerhouse. How wonderful that after all these decades he’s still got it in him!
Screening at area movie theaters.