HTS Moderator , Reviewer
HTS Overall Score:74
With the Supreme Court’s decision to recognize same sex marriage during the last year, Peter Sollet’s film about a much earlier case regarding a same sex union comes at a very pliable time in American history. Before the whole push for marriage rights being extended too same sex couples there was a much larger and much more angering case that happened 8 or so years ago. Based off of the documentary of the same name, “Freeheld” tells the story of terminally ill New Jersey cop, Laurel Hester and her struggle to leave her pension to her legal domestic partner, Stacie Andree and the resulting public furor that came after. While the story itself is not one of marriage, it IS a story of a justice system that was denying legal and medical rights to Laurel’s partner, who was legally considered a domestic partner. Unfortunately, “Freeheld” ends up being a trite affair that paints everything in shades of exaggeration to try and get the point across, rather than laying out a complex and truthful narrative. The end result is a film that is slightly insulting to both sides of the argument as well as just a poor film in general.
You know the age old story. Girl meets someone, girl falls in love, and then girl creates a domestic partnership with her love. Then said girl gets a terminal illness and her loved ones are denied involvement in the medical proceedings as well as denied access to a country employees’ pension after death even though a domestic partnership was formed. It may seem a bit bizarre, but yes it actually happened. Laurel Hester (Julianne Moore) and Stacie Andree (Ellen Page) did all that and when Laurel was diagnosed with terminal stage 4 cancer, the hospitals denied Stacie access to Laurel during medical proceedings and the Freeholder council of Ocean City, New Jersey deigned to deny Laurel’s request to transfer her pension to Stacie after death even though there was provisions made for incidences like that in the 2005 domestic partnership act ruling.
With this act made by the ruling body, Laurel and Stacie’s fate was almost sealed, but thanks to help from a variety of activist groups and Laurel’s own partner, Dane Wells (Michael Shannon), an initiative to support Laurel’s quest to provide for her partner was under taken. Here is the meat of the issue, but also the point where the film falls apart. The first 1/3rd of the movie deals with Laurel and Stacie’s relationship. Their falling in love, the fear of Laurel being a secretly gay FEMALE cop in a world full of heterosexual men, and so on and so forth. That first third was touching and actually rather well done, but once the cancer treatment is underway the film turns into a whole other animal. The best way of describing it is to borrow a quote from another criticism I read online. Basically we got Star Wars Episode I instead of a Star Wars Episode IV. We wanted an action movie with all of the complex characters that make a drama good, but instead we got senate hearings and trade negotiations.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=64322[/img]What started out as a love story and struggle for their mandated rights according to the domestic partnership act turns into a trite, clichéd film that hits all of the stereotypical talking points without making anything three dimensional of the characters. To make things worse, the hour and 15 minutes of listening to city hall meetings felt like an exercise in tediousness. I feel like we’ve come far enough in film making that when we make a movie about a political or human even that we should be able to make it so that there is a set of characters that organically grows and evolves without the need to devolve into jingoistic talking points that use the film as a podium for an agenda rather than letting it be a testament to the actual people who had to suffer through this event.
I understand that the Supreme Court marriage act is a controversial subject, and I honestly am not going to come out and make a statement for or against it. HOWVER, I followed proceedings for the Hester case quite avidly and it was something that I completely felt abject frustration over. This wasn’t a marriage issue. In fact it was barely brought up except by outside activists, but rather a case where a LEGAL domestic partnership with rights was systematically treating their “victims” as second class citizens. Rights of domestic partnerships and civil unions has been spelled out for quite some time and Laurel Hester and Stacie Andree were given the runaround, which while I may not be a supporter of the marriage act, I am COMPLETELY against how the two were treated civilly. Imagine my frustration when I watch “Freehold” and watch a heavily stilted film that can’t seem to get past cookie cutter representations of the people at hand.
The saving grace of the movie was Ellen Page and Julianne Moore in reality. While their characters were cookie cutter and their dialog stilted, the two gave a very intimate portrayal of the couple. Their eyes and glances were emotional and vibrantly realistic amidst a sea of actors spouting out cheesy one liners. Michael Shannon as Laurel’s partner does a solid enough job, and actually becomes one of the better sub characters in the movie. Unfortunately the rest of the movie is littered with archetypes and stereotypes that paint both sides of the argument as being completely extreme. Steve Carell is a gay rabbi who rallies behind Laurel and Stacie (actually he more uses them as a stepping stone for his same sex marriage agenda more than anything) and is almost the comic relief of the movie. He’s never overtly offensive or punishing to the original character, but his performance seems more like an overly dramatized bit of theater rather than an actual character as he punctuates every other line with “sweetie” and “dear”. The rest of them are your normal eye roll worthy characters that have little semblance of reality like the gay cop who keeps his mouth shut against his own self-interest, the fat and snobby conservatives who are portrayed as evil and self-serving, or the bro-dudes who come in and harass Stacie at her job.
Rated PG-13 for some thematic elements, language and sexuality
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=64330[/img]“Freeheld” may not be a wildly exciting movie, but the 1.85:1 AVC encoded Blu-ray looks fantastic. The film is given a very natural color grading, and employs lightly boosted contrast levels to create a warm and inviting look. The scenes of Laurel and Stacie on the beach are exceptionally beautiful, with the grey sand of the beach combined with the light green of the waterside grasses blowing in the wind. The bright sunlight creates an inviting atmosphere that brings a sense of wistfulness and beauty to the film that contrasts well with the bleak nature of Laurel’s physical decline. Blacks are deep and inky and fine detail for the drama is magnificent. There is some light banding here and there (watch the headlights of the punks who harass Stacie in the mechanics garage for the most egregious example), but overall the image is largely artifact free. A very good looking Blu-ray transfer from Lionsgate.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=64338[/img]“Freehold” is first and foremost a dialog driven drama, and thusly the sound track is rather heavily front loaded. Dialog is the main focus of the movie and it is done accurately and precisely with well-balanced vocals amidst the surrounding ambiance. Surround aren’t wildly active, but there is still a goodly amount of background noise to keep them from going completely silent. A chair scraping across the floor, the rustle of an expensive suit on a chair. These sounds are all precise and cleanly replicated. LFE is mild, but still there to punctuate the dialog with the occasional bang of a gavel hammering on a wooden desk, or the sound of Laurel getting thrown from a moving car as a perp slams into a trash bin. It’s a simplistic track, but one that does exactly what is required of it without complaint.
• "The Making of Freeheld" Featurette
• "Freeheld to Freedom: Ocean County Then and Now" Featurette
• Oscar®-winning Documentary Short "FREEHELD"
• Audio Commentary with Director Peter Sollett and Actors Julianne Moore and Ellen Page
I like movies, even controversial ones, about human issues that I don’t even sometimes agree with everything. However no matter the story I want the story to be told WELL, and that is sadly not the case with “Freehold”. Well intentioned and obviously a passion project for Ellen Paige (you can see it in her eyes), the movie stumbles along at a lackadaisical pace that is boring for viewers on both sides of the fence. The two leads give more effort than the film deserves and makes up for a little bit of the negativity, but not enough to actually make the movie really worthwhile. I’d have to give the film a low end rental at the best due to the choppy nature of the writing and directing alone, but fans of the subject matter may find some enjoyment out of the lackluster film.
Starring: Steve Carell, Michael Shannon, Ellen Paige, Julianne Moore
Directed by: Peter Sollett
Written by: Ron Nyswaner
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 AVC
Main Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HD MA, Spanish DD 5.1
Runtime: 103 minutes
Blu-Ray Release Date: January 2nd, 2016
Recommendation: Tentative Rental
More about Mike