Review: ‘Freeheld’-Stirring, Humanizes LGBT Rights Movement

It’s easy to turn a blind eye to the amount of discrimination that members of LGBT community face on a daily basis, especially if you are heterosexual married movie critic with a 3-year old and another boy on the way. What most Americans take for granted, the LGBT community has been fighting to achieve for much too long. What’s astounding is how American’s general attitude towards LGBT rights has changed within the past decade. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage earlier this year, but in 2005, terminal cancer patient Detective Laurel Hester was denied an appeal to grant her pension to her domestic partner by the Ocean City, New Jersey freeholders.

Freeheld, directed by Peter Sollett, dramatizes the life of Detective Laurel Hester (Julianne Moore) from the moment she meets her partner, Stacie Andree (Ellen Page), through to her battle with cancer and the freeholders. From the very beginning of the film, Detective Hester makes it clear to Stacie that she intends to keep her love life private because of how hard it is to succeed in the male-dominated world of law enforcement, even if it means lying to her partner, detective Dane Wells (Micheal Shannon). Due to the grim outlook of Laurel’s cancer diagnosis, Laurel and Stacie’s love life has to become public as they approach the Freeholders once again to allow Laurel to grant her pension to Stacie. Even though Freeholder Kelder (Josh Charles) is obviously conflicted as to how to cast his vote, he’s bullied into siding with the majority of the four-person panel, based on an antiquated notion that “A Freeholder never reverses a decision.”  It’s at this point we meet Steve Goldstein (Steve Carell), the founder of Garden State Equality, who takes on the fight for Laurel.

In today’s current political environment, Freeheld is the most important movie to come out this fall. However, Freeheld is far from a perfect film. Steve Carrell’s portrayal of Steve Goldstein as a campy, media savy queen is a one-note joke overplayed throughout. A lot of critics will probably use this portrayal to ignite their negativity towards Freeheld, but it would be doltish to just cast aside the rest of film over one erratum.

The story that will resonate from Freeheld, will be the stellar performances of both Moore and Page. They create an intimacy on screen that is so striking, so pure, it almost feels intrusive to be watching. Freeheld portrays the relationship of Laurel and Stacie as realistic and loving, rife with nuance and passion. Moore’s portrayal of Hester is grounded in the reality of her inevitable fate and her passion to make each moment she has left on this earth count; Page’s portrayal is uplifted by optimism, hope that they will beat cancer, and her passion to have a long life with the love of her life. Two portrayals on two ends of the spectrum. Freeheld is truly not about a same-sex couple wanting the same rights as other couples; it’s about a couple who just simply wants equal rights. The brilliance of Peter Sollett’s Freeheld is that it humanizes the issues facing the LGBT community in today’s world.  In the end, the movie becomes less about gender and more about human decency.


Dewey Singleton - Film Critic
Dewey Singleton - Film Critic
I'm a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association and have been doing reviews for many years. My views on film are often heard in markets such as Atlanta, Houston, and satellite radio. My wife often tolerates my obsession for all things film related and two sons are at an age now where 'Trolls' is way cooler than dad. Follow me on twitter @mrsingleton.