Freeheld (Lionsgate, PG-13)

Freeheld 75Sometimes movies come along that are made by people you like, uphold values that you believe in, but, as movies, just aren’t very good.

 

 

 

 

Freeheld 500

Sometimes movies come along that are made by people you like, uphold values that you believe in, but, as movies, just aren’t very good. You feel like a dick giving them bad reviews. And here we are.

Peter Sollett’s new film Freeheld is based on the true story of about ten years ago when Laurel Hester (Julianne Moore in the film), a New Jersey police detective with a couple of decades on the force, was diagnosed with lung cancer, and her fight for her pension to be granted to her legally-registered domestic partner, Stacie Andree (Ellen Page). Sollett I think is an underappreciated director, who first came to my attention with 2002’s excellent Raising Victor Vargas, and then his belated second feature, 2008’s above-average Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist. Freeheld is his third-ever feature film, so he’s not doing much to speed up his output. It surely comes as no surprise that I, alongside every other right-minded film fan, quite admire Moore and Page, and even writer Ron Nyswaner has a nice pedigree, having been nominated for an Oscar for his work on Philadelphia.

Ultimately, Moore and Page come off relatively well, as does co-star Michael Shannon (someone else I like!) as Hester’s detective partner, Dane Wells. Sollett doesn’t do much to elevate the material, but most of the blame of the film’s ultimate failure lies with Nyswaner, whose script is full of wooden dialogue, heavy-handed scenes, and generally just the type of landmines films like this would do well to stay the hell away from. A more recognizable name in the credits who also does poor work is Steve Carell, as a gay-rights activist from New York named Steven Goldstein (Steven with a “v,” as in “very gay,” as he explains in the film). His purpose, apart from keeping the plot moving forward, seems in part to be so that the film doesn’t portray every gay character as being a perfect, angelic being; Carell’s character is written to be obnoxious and at least a little damaging, and that’s how Carell plays him. And intentionality aside, he hits the wrong notes, and hurts the film almost every time they give him anything to do.

With that in mind, maybe we can take the film Freeheld the same way Carell’s character is written—to show that not every film that is made about gay rights is a perfect, flawless film. For its message, sure, but for the filmmaking artistry on display, probably not. | Pete Timmermann

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