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Published November 12, 2015

If you think Julianne Moore and Ellen Page are an unlikely romantic pairing, you’re on my wavelength when it came to Freeheld. Freeheld is based on the true story of Laurel Hester, a gay police officer who fought for her pension to go to Stacie Andree, her domestic partner, covering Laurel’s story from her meeting Stacie to the bittersweet end.

Laurel (Julianne Moore) and Stacie (Ellen Page) meet at volleyball practice and quickly end up dating and eventually forming a domestic partnership. After being diagnosed with a terminal illness, Laurel fights the Ocean County Board of Freeholders for her pension to go to Stacie so she can keep their house.

Freeheld

The real life Laurel was significantly older than Stacie, so the age gap between Moore and Page makes sense in the context of the film, and both actresses are wonderful in their roles. Moore is especially convincing in her depiction of suffering from an aggressive cancer, and transforms from a vibrant, capable police officer to someone who struggles to breathe and speak.

While Freeheld covers a fairly long period of time, most of the emphasis is on the cancer and the fight with the board. That means there’s a lot that’s glossed over – the relationship moves fairly quickly, and there’s not a lot of focus on her work in the police force.

Freeheld 2

Still, the heart of this film is the fight for equality, so it’s interesting to see how Freeheld has tackled the issue. Steve Carell is the larger than life Steven Goldstein, head of advocacy group Garden State Equality, and his approach to the problem comes across as overzealous and impersonal, seeing Laurel as a symbol of inequality rather than a person, as opposed to her police partner, Dane (Michael Shannon), who is more individualistic about it. Her situation is closely tied to marriage equality, but Laurel is insistent that she is simply after a pension for Stacie. So although it’s clear that Freeheld means well, it flounders a little with a confusing approach to advocacy (there seems to be a distaste for organised protests compared to individual expression), a lurching timeline, and stilted characters.

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