Oh dear… where are the tissues? If you like inspiring, emotional films, this one is for you.
Freeheld tells the incredible true story of New Jersey police lieutenant Laurel Hester (Julianne Moore) who fought a highly publicised battle from her sickbed to ensure her state pension could be extended to her domestic partner, Stacie Andree, after her death. A long-serving and respected member of the police force, Laurel only came out after being diagnosed with lung cancer in order to fight for equality and for domestic partners (the closest thing to a spouse as homosexual Americans could become until recently) to receive the same treatment upon loosing their loved ones as heterosexual spouses.
Consider yourself warned – this is an emotional watch. There were few dry eyes in the house by the time the credits rolled, and mine weren’t amongst them. A woman next to me was full blown sobbing for the last twenty solid minutes.
Like any film that depicts a sad story, Freeheld made me acutely aware of how grateful I ought to be for own situation. More than any personal appreciation though, this film, through skilful demonstration of how senseless homophobia truly is, made me proud of how far we have come. If Laurel found herself in the same situation today, she would live in a country that recognises her relationship as valid, and the strife she went through would be unnecessary. It is because of people like Laurel though that we have got to this point, and that alone makes this film worth the watch.
Julianne Moore was as captivating as ever, but the real star here is Ellen Page, who gave a phenomenal performance as Laurel’s devoted and earnest partner, Stacie. This was a role she seems made for, from the shy mumble with which she pushes out her words, to her beautifully simple aspirations in life; to have true happiness and true love in life.
Notable mentions are deserved for both Michael Shannon, as Laurel’s straight-as-they-come partner in crime (literally, he’s her police partner) and Steve Carell as a “Jewish middle class homosexual from New Jersey” who parades in from New York to help her case and in-so-doing provides some longed-for moments of comedy during what can otherwise be a pretty grim watch. Meanwhile, as almost every other colleague of Laurel’s hesitates to sympathise with her battle, Shannon throws himself all the way in, serving as the voice of reason, compassion and empathy the audience craves in the face of so much ridiculous bigotry.
Throughout the film, as the battle for equality rages on, the battle against Laurel’s cancer is one we know she cannot win and as such, this is never going to be a happy ending. Hence the need to take tissues into the cinema.
Both an uplifting and a bummer of a film, Freeheld is well worth seeing for the commendable performances from all and the incredible true story which reminds us to be compassionate and thankful for things which in different places are denied to others.
4 stars from me
Freeheld is out in cinemas across the U.K. now