Love one another. Also, stop being dicks.
Laurel Hester (Julianne Moore) was a loyal, dedicated and passionate cop in Ocean County, New Jersey. She was respected and adored by her peers, was best-friends with her partner (Michael Shannon), and when it came down to getting the job done, she did everything she could to make that happen. However, the one fact about her life that she had to hide and, ultimately, caused her to lose a lot of respect from those said peers, was the fact that she was gay. Nobody knew about this little tidbit in her personal life until she was diagnosed with cancer and wanted to pass off her pension benefits to her partner, Stacie Andree (Ellen Page). Problem was, board of chosen freeholders didn’t see that as “right”, due to the fact that Hester was gay, so instead, decided to shut it down. Devastated by this news, Laurel knows that there’s nowhere else to go with her voice then to the court again, but this time, with more and more people by her side, voicing their opinions on her, and showing how she is granted this god-given right, no matter who she holds up a home or romantic relationship with.
It’s a shame that, no matter how kind, or smart, or meaningful the message they’re trying to get across may be, message movies, generally, suck. Actually, that’s not correct; they’re just not all that good. Most of the time, message movies come off like after school specials that you’re more likely to see on Lifetime or TLC, than actually anywhere on the big screen, where your money, attention and time is absolutely needed.
And Freeheld, like other message movies, feels just like that. However, that’t not to say that the movie, to use a word I used earlier, sucks, it’s just that, considering its good intentions, its solid cast, and an interesting director (Raising Victor Vargas‘ Peter Sollett), it’s disappointing. That doesn’t mean that they’re message isn’t worn across their sleeves, or that they don’t get it out clear enough, it’s just that it feels lacking in an actual story, with genuine, relateable characters.
Everybody here, from Laurel, to Stacie, to Laurel’s partner, and especially to the freeholders, all feel as if they’re stand-ins for a message. Laurel, of course, is the hero of this story who, after all of these years of putting her life on the line for the greater good of Ocean County; Stacie is the misunderstood little girl who is in desperate need of love, comfort and a hug; Laurel’s partner, Dane, is the gold-hearted friend of Laurel who stands by her no matter what; and the freeholders are, as expected, mostly just a bunch of ignorant dicks, with the exception of Josh Charles’ character, who feels a little more conflicted than the rest, but also begins to break into speeches that people probably think how conservatives actually talk. This isn’t to say that the cast doesn’t at least try with these types, but by the same token, it’s just a shame to see them all having to perform within these compounds where, maybe, just maybe, they’re allowed to branch out and make something new or interesting of these characters.
But sadly, they’re mostly all one-note.
Moore’s Laurel has hardly a bad bone in her body; Stacie doesn’t get as much attention as she should, but seems like she means no harm to anyone; and Dane is just a nice guy. Moore’s fine, as well as is Page and they share a nice bit of chemistry together, but Shannon is really the only one who seems like he’s really giving it his all here and coming out just fine. Well, it was especially nice to see Shannon play, once again, a normal, everyday dude, but to also see him shed some of his more sensitive angles that we don’t usually get a chance to see him dance with. Don’t get me wrong, I love it when he’s yelling and giving people those crazy eyes of his, but it’s always nice to see it when he plays a guy who seems like he wouldn’t hurt a fly because he wanted to.
And for some reason, even though Freeheld‘s been hiding him in all of the ads, but Steve Carell is actually here as Steven Goldstein, the founder of the well-known advocacy group, Garden State Equality. Carell is funny here and constantly makes every scene he’s in, exciting and entertaining, but still feels like he’s just playing more of a caricature you’d see in a parody of Goldstein on SNL, rather than an actual person himself. Still, he made me laugh and his constant use of “sweetheart” and “honey” makes some of the most masculine-of-masculine men in the movie shiver, which is always fun to watch.
Homophobia. Fun? Who knew!
Anyway, other than the cast who clearly seem to be on their A-game here to make something work, Freeheld is all too concerned with passing its message along, that it just feels like a conventional bore. There are more types here than just the ones I mentioned up-top; there’s the overly-homophobic, downright rude cop who disowns Laurel from the very beginning, there’s the angry people who come to intimidate Laurel and Stacie for causing such a ruckus, there’s the closeted cop who begins to find courage once Laurel pleads her case, and yeah, there’s probably more that I forgot to mention.
But you get the point – this movie is as cliché as you can get. It has a nice heart and I more than agree with the point it’s making, but it does so in such an ordinary, run-of-the-mill way, that it makes me wonder why they even bothered making this movie to begin with? Because surely, they wanted to bring some interesting points up about humanity and the way of life, right? Or did they just want to make a movie about a lesbian woman’s final years and how she fought for equality, without any grey areas thrown in whatsoever?
I’m thinking more of the latter in Freeheld’s case, sadly.
Consensus: Not without its heart in the right place, Freeheld brings an emotional story to the big screen, but doesn’t seem to do much with it that’s interesting, challenging, or anything that we haven’t already seen before many, many times before, in many other message movies in the same vein.
6 / 10