Samuel Kaufman ’19 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
Freeheld is based on a true story that follows Laurel Hester (Julianne Moore) as a closeted lesbian detective in Ocean City, NJ in 2002 with Dane Wells (Michael Shannon) as a partner. She meets and falls in love with the much younger Stacie Andree (Ellen Page). However, she soon discovers that she has stage four lung cancer and doesn’t have long to live. The main conflict of the film follows her fight to give her pension–earned from 23 years of police service–to her domestic partner after her death, despite a group of 5 freeholders legally prohibiting it. Despite its promising premise, Freeheld is a very bad movie, and not even bad in a way that’s fun. It’s the kind of bad that hides from you. That doesn’t seem at first terrible, but it slowly makes the viewers skin crawl. It’s the Ted Bundy; not the Ed Gein. Freeheld reeks of a movie made from greed and studio notes.
Beginning with the casting, it is incredibly transparent in its marketable choices. The three leads are blatantly typecast in roles almost identical to ones they have played before. Julianne Moore seems to be playing a dying woman because she just won an Oscar for playing one in Still Alice. Ellen Page seems to be a lesbian because she recently came out in her personal life. Michael Shannon is playing a grizzled cop because whoever runs Hollywood decided a few years back that all grizzled cops where to be played by Michael Shannon. The actors do a passable enough job if one ignores the curious lack of chemistry between anyone. This theme of banality is continued through every aspect of the movie. Everything including the writing, the cinematography, and even the music are bland and predictable. Pivotal story beats are played out with little emotional depth or meaning, and their reproductions are forgotten almost instantly. There are dozens of times throughout the movie that a character will drop a single line that begs for a subplot, which is then either completely ignored or resolved in its entirety off-screen. Motivation and back-story are loosely defined at best, and broad, offensive stereotypes at worst.
A huge crime is that there is not a single character with emotional depth in this movie. The two main antagonists are stated, unapologetic, homophobes. Any complexity or reasoning to this is completely absent. They are homophobic and bullies because the script needs them to be homophobic bullies. In fact, neither man is confronted or questioned on his viewpoints, and neither changes throughout the film. They are “defeated” because they are just ignored by the writer. Both are lazily written out of the finale, never to be heard from again.
This lack of attention carries over to the protagonists as well. The two lesbian characters are an auto-mechanic and a cop who meet playing volleyball. Sadly the stereotypes are pushed through the characters as they get a big dog, watch sports, drive a truck, go fishing and wear what can only be described as unhealthy amounts of plaid and denim. Steve Carell plays an important character who is both gay and Jewish. This portrayal is shown through how he is flamboyant, pushy, only wears purple, and calls everyone “honey”. The same goes for his Jewish background. In the very first shot of him, all that is in focus is his purple kippah and large, protruding nose. This character has the potential to create interesting and complex conflict, tackling the problem of how to get Hester enough media attention to pressure the freeholders to change their minds without so much media coverage that the whole ordeal devolves into a circus. Instead, the film mocks him, abandons that conflict and uses him only for poorly timed comic relief. In a film that is touting itself as progressive, (note the film’s #LoveIsLove marketing campaign) the characters that are supposed to be cared about are one dimensional parodies of themselves. It is inexplicable and inexcusable.
The film is directed by Peter Sollett and written by Ron Nyswaner. Nyswaner is best known for writing Philadelphia, another melodramatic movie about a gay male who faces homophobia while they are in the process of dying. It is really that similarity that solidifies the assessment of Freeheld as nothing more than an exceptionally lazy film. A lackluster rehashing of a similar story because the timing of release was politically pertinent, and thus bound to make money. Freeheld is by no means an atrocious film, but its complete lack of a soul makes it far more grating than a truly bad movie would have been.
Overall Grade: D
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