In a time when our nation is going through some the most progressive and long overdue changes in history, a film as timely as “Freeheld” would be welcomed with open arms and minds from critics and audiences. Unfortunately, what director Peter Sollett creates, in partnership with Academy Award nominated screenwriter Ron Nyswaner, is an uninspired, insipid, and downright cheap take on a same-sex couple fighting for death benefits.
Starring recently Oscar-crowned Julianne Moore and Ellen Page, the two manage decent chemistry and maneuver through generic and Lifetime movie-like lines. The impressive Michael Shannon does his very best to elevate all the material, showing the if you’re talented enough, no script can hold you back. On the hand, the rest of the cast, particularly Steve Carell, is so over-the-top, and poorly guided, that everything that could have made “Freeheld” a spectacular and moving drama, is quickly transformed into a distorted and tragic version of the Oscar-winning short that the film is based on. The most novice filmmakers could have created something more gratifying.
“Freeheld” tells the story of New Jersey police lieutenant, Laurel Hester (Moore), and her registered domestic partner, Stacie Andree (Page). When Laurel is diagnosed with terminal cancer, both battle to secure Hester’s pension benefits.
After just winning her long overdue Academy Award for last year’s “Still Alice,” the excitement and anticipation for Julianne Moore’s next role was at an all-time high. Moore, as we come to expect, commits firmly to the role of a dying woman. Reminiscent of performances like Hilary Swank in “Million Dollar Baby,” Moore dives into her psyche, offering her soul to a woman who lived her life with secrets, and became alive in her later years. While Nyswaner’s script offers little insight into Laurel and Stacie’s love, outside of montages and cancer treatments, Moore finds her way through the pitfalls to come out on the other side intact. Page, who was a strong voice in getting the picture made, is relegated to crying and awkward ticks. Several instances, we are led to believe that “this scene” will be “her scene” where she gets the chance to let loose and show us what she’s all about. Once again, Sollett’s plain and boring direction quickly cut her every scene short, and offer no room to explore her character’s surroundings and feelings. It’s a terrible waste of talent.
Michael Shannon delivers a competent and layered performance as Dane, Laurel’s cop partner. He finds the humanity and conflict in Dane’s misunderstanding about Laurel’s lifestyle and later in the fight for equality. He’s the film’s key positive note. Carell’s over-the-top yelling and mannerisms is among the worst acting examples seen in 2015. It’s as if Sollett decided to let “Michael Scott” from “The Office” run amuck on the set because that’s all that Carell manages to evoke. One year after a career-topping work in “Foxcatcher,” I’m embarrassed that this is his next venture for the world to behold.
Even down to the cheesy score by Hans Zimmer, nothing about “Freeheld” sings. It lays dormant in a small courtroom, where anger and inspiration are supposed to fly but lies lifeless among the picket signs and Josh Charles’ snarls. I was sincerely hoping for something better, actually something magnificent; too bad there’s not enough vision to bring this powerful story to life.
“Freeheld” is a dud.