Review: ‘Freeheld’ held back by lack of human connection
“Freeheld” feels like it was micro-engineered inside of an Oscar laboratory: It’s a true story (ding!) about gay rights (ding!) and a small town learning to overcome its prejudices (ding!) that doubles as a cancer movie (ding ding!) and stars a cast chock full of Oscar nominees (ding ding ding!).
Yet even with that pedigree, “Freeheld” falls flat. It’s a stiff, overly calculated piece of awards bait that has all the elements of an Academy Awards triumph — except a beating heart.
Director Peter Sollett (“Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist”), working from a script by Ron Nyswaner, has everything in place, but can’t get any blood pumping through the movie’s veins. “Freeheld” is a human story, but Sollett misses the human element, and its characters become facsimiles, rather than people.
“Freeheld” tells the story of Laurel Hester (Julianne Moore), a New Jersey cop dying of cancer who fights her town’s government to allow her to transfer her benefits to her domestic partner, Stacie Andree, (Ellen Page). Her partner on the force (Michael Shannon) rallies her fellow officers to her cause — not an easy task, given the homophobia inside the Ocean County, New Jersey police force — and a gay rights activist (a cartoonish, bordering-on-embarrassing Steve Carell) swoops in to heighten the profile of the case.
At its core, “Freeheld” is a love story, but there’s no on-screen spark between Moore and Page to sell the couple’s romance. Andree is loyal to Hester, sticking by her side as cancer deteriorates her body, but Moore and Page never move past the stilted and awkward phase.
Neither does “Freeheld.” In a historic year for equality, it tells an important, timely story, which makes its missing of its mark all the more glaring.
Rated PG-13: For some thematic elements, language and sexuality
Running time: 103 minutes