Sunday, October 25, 2015

Julianne Moore Helps FREEHELD

This probably would've attracted a wider audience had it been a made-for-TV movie.  The film is a drama based on real life people in a real life case.  It's called FREEHELD and focuses on a dying lesbian in New Jersey fighting for the right to leave money to her domestic partner.  Early this year, we saw Julianne Moore win a well-deserved Oscar for Still Alice, the indie film in which she played a 50-year old New York City university professor diagnosed with Alzheimer's Diseases. We see the vital, sophisticated wife and mother slowly empty out.  In Freeheld, Moore plays a New Jersey police officer who doesn't tell fellow officers that she's gay.  The story happens about ten or twelve years ago.  There was no same-sex marriage law in place nationally.  Laurel Hester, an outstanding and ambitious cop, is determined to move up in her profession.
Just being a woman makes her desire to get a promotion a challenge.  She's also a gay woman.  She's asked out on a date by a woman she meets during a leisure time recreational sports match.  Stacie is played by Ellen Page.
Stacee doesn't know that Laurel is a cop which makes for a chuckle during a tense moment during their first date.  Stacie is quite likable and on the shy side.  She's more out that Laurel and has trouble fitting into Laurel's serious, no-nonsense, closeted life as a cop.  Moore is very good as Officer Hester but we just saw Moore play a character with a disease last year in a film with a better script.  As the cop, she has a sort of a Farrah Fawcett Charlie's Angels hairdo.  But she does not have that Revlon look some female cops have on TV shows.  I saw a prime time cop show recently with a female cop trying to keep a poor soul from shooting herself on a subway car.  In the close-up, the cop had flawless daytime make-up and a fabulous short haircut.  Her uniform was flattering and showed off her curves.  Moore's cop is not making a fashion statement.  She's there to cuff some criminals with her partner.  She can handle a gun. She walks like a lawman in a classic western about to have a shootout with some bad guys -- and win.  Laurel and Stacie apply for domestic partnership and get a house together.
Laurel starts coming out and that causes a slight rift with her male partner, played by Michael Shannon.   He's loyal but pissed that she didn't tell him she was gay.  There's a closeted male cop on the force and a straight cop who makes homophobic comments out loud.  When Laurel is stricken with terminal cancer, she wants her pension benefits to be transferred to Stacie.  Problems arise because they're a same-sex couple.  Hester pleads her case as her health declines.
This is an indie film with a modest budget.  The movie is based on a 2007 documentary.  Moore's performance is excellent.  Page's character was a little too on the Sad Sack side -- a problem that was not the Page's.  It was written that way.  There is one scene where Stacie really gets to show some pizazz and that's when she's rotating tires.  She wants a garage job working on cars.  The screenplay is mostly average.  That's odd because it was written by Ron Nyswaner.  He got an Oscar nomination for writing the AIDS drama, Philadelphia starring Tom Hanks and and he should've gotten another one for his screenplay to 2006's The Painted Veil starring Ed Norton and Naomi Watts.

In a curious bit a casting, Steve Carell plays the self-described loud-mouthed, assertive, Jewish gay activist who's out to make the dying cop's story a major one in order to shine a big light on the need for marriage equality.  Initially, Hester resists.  She just wants justice for the woman she loves.  Carell's character is written as though moviegoers in Heartland American seeing this film would not quite get that fact that he's a gay New York Jewish man -- named Steven Goldstein.  Yes, he announces it.  But then he also wears a violet colored yarmulke on his head.  He tells his office workers that he needs more Entenmann's donuts.  Still not obvious enough?  In one brief scene, he's on the phone in his fabulous kitchen.  For some reason, there was a need to have a big honkin' lit menorah right smack dab on his kitchen counter to remind us that Steven Goldstein is Jewish.  Had this film been made in the 1980s, he would shown up at one of the ailing officer's hearings with protest signs in big brown bags from Bloomingdale's.
There's a scene in which Stacie steps up to the mic at one of Laurel's hearings to address the panel of men blocking Laurel's pension wishes.  The cop's health has severely declined.  This was a chance for the movie character to make a touching speech.  However, it's a rather mediocre, awkward address.  A disappointing piece of writing.  A movie audience needed that speech to be moving and focused and passionate.

In a category of films with a lesbian couple as the main figures, this cannot hold a candle to the rich, complicated, witty and wonderful, The Kids Are All Right starring Julianne Moore and Annette Bening.  Moore and Page are good with Moore getting the better role and Page doing the best she can.  But, for the big screen and despite all its good intentions, the writing doesn't quite make it in Freeheld.  It has that TV formula feel.  That's why I do believe this release would've fared better as a made-for-TV movie.

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