Based on the true story of police officer Laurel Hester’s fight against the New Jersey Board of Chosen Freeholders, director Peter Sollett’s new drama, Freeheld
, stumbles out of the gate and then never regains its footing as it tries to bring the story to life. The movie opens today at the Cedar Lee Theatre.
The film’s first half attempts to show how Laurel (Julianne Moore), a gutsy police officer dead set on bringing justice to Ocean County, falls for Stacie Andree (Ellen Page) after they meet at a volleyball tournament. Concerned that her co-workers might discover that she’s gay, Laurel acts rather guarded around Stacie, an auto mechanic who could care less about what others think. After a few arguments, the two settle into a relationship. Painfully slow, this portion of the movie comes across as a made-for-TV special (think Lifetime Channel). The two actresses have little chemistry, and the stilted dialogue doesn’t help matters. And Moore doesn't convince as a cop (where's Jodie Foster when you need her?).
But after Laurel becomes hospitalized with lung cancer, the plot shifts to focus on her fight to leave her pension to Stacie. Because the two have entered into a domestic partnership, she thinks she should be able to give her pension to Stacie. Dane Wells (Michael Shannon), Laurel’s partner on the force, agrees. But the men on the New Jersey Board of Chosen Freeholders deny her request, setting off a real shitstorm of controversy. Steven Goldstein (Steve Carell), the flamboyant founder and Chair of Garden State Equality, brings a group of protestors to town, and they begin to raise holy hell. As Laurel’s condition deteriorates, Steven increases the pressure on the board to reverse its decision.
The film’s second half arguably features some terrific moments as Laurel begins to receive the kind of support she deserves. But the movie never overcomes its dulling first half. And even though Moore puts in a fine performance as a woman on her deathbed, the film just doesn’t give the source material the type of treatment it deserves.