Freeheld is the terribly well-meaning, authenticity-driven true story of a lesbian couple whose cancer diagnosis leads to an historic human rights fight. As anecdote, the tale is shocking, maddening and inspiring. Unfortunately, rendered on screen, its adherence to truth gives the script a by-numbers sensibility which risks undermining its affect.
Although Julianne Moore is an actress of great range who has played many things, initially her 21st century detective with 1970s hair feels a little forced. But from Alzheimer’s sufferer to porn star Moore is an indisputable chameleon, and she swiftly impresses as the awkward, tentative Laurel Hester, a gutsy police officer whose sexual orientation is none of anybody’s damn business. Yet when she falls in love with Stacie Andree, her private life threatens to become very public indeed.
Ellen Page is brilliant as Andree, seeming never more at home in her on-screen skin. Her performance, like the film as a whole, is lo-fi, downbeat and naturalistic, and it is equally warming to see Michael Shannon (99 Homes) in an uncharacteristically sympathetic role. The unexpectedly flamboyant entrance of Steve Carell as an equality-crusading gay Jew therefore feels a little left-field in this oh-so-serious story, but there’s no disputing that once the legal teeth are sharpened, the story steps up its game.
Freeheld is important storytelling told humbly, the injustice at its core sadly still being fought over today.