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TIFF: ‘Freeheld’ Doesn’t Hold Up to Expectations

The lesbian biopic, which opens in theaters this Friday, just doesn’t come together, despite its star power and engaging storyline.

Freeheld 2015 Movie Photo

Julianne Moore as Detective Laurel Hester and Ellen Page as partner Stacie Andree in ‘Freeheld.’ (Photo: Courtesy of TIFF)

Predating the Marriage Equality Act of 2015, Freeheld is a true story same-sex legal drama starring Julianne Moore, Ellen Page, Michael Shannon and Steve Carell

That one-liner alone packs enough punch to scream “Oscar bait,” right?

Sure enough, Freeheld had a lot of award buzz before it made the rounds through the festival circuit, but once it actually debuted this September, the fanfare took a nosedive… and well, let’s just say it sounded more like crickets.

Directed by Peter Sollett and based on the 2007 Academy Award-winning documentary short by the same name, Freeheld depicts decorated New Jersey detective Laurel Hester (Julianne Moore) and her fight to leave her pension to domestic partner Stacie Andree (Ellen Page) after being diagnosed with terminal cancer. Tension arises when local conservative county officials, known as the freeholders, deny her request.

Although the real-life couple originally wanted to settle the matter privately, Hester’s desire for equal treatment for domestic partnerships helped publicly pave the way for the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage a decade later.

Julianne Moore offers a solid performance as tough detective Laurel Hester — distracting Farrah Fawcett hair and all — but we’ve seen Moore in far more memorable roles, such as her most recent Oscar-winning lead in Still Alice and in lighter fare as the lesbian-wife/mother-in-crisis Jules in The Kids Are Alright. Matching Moore’s talents is actor Michael Shannon, who plays her supportive police partner Dane Wells, to whom Shannon employs his typical angst-ridden, curmudgeonly charm. But despite the two actors’ talents, they couldn’t mitigate the casting blunders that were Ellen Page and Steve Carell.

To watch Ellen Page’s characterization of Stacie Andree, you’d think the actress studied Justin Bieber‘s mannerisms as part of her research. Spotty acting on her part aside, what ultimately throws you off is Page and Moore’s complete lack of chemistry throughout the entire film. (Kristen Stewart would’ve been much more suited for the role than Page, if you ask us.)

The politicking comes into play when Steve Carell enters the story as gay Jewish activist Steven Goldstein who’s desperate to expose Hester and Andree’s plight as part of a larger injustice toward gay couples across the country. Carell was indeed entertaining, but his larger-than-life persona was more of a disruption to the already shaky elements of the film, which also included cheesy montages and closeted gay policeman sub stories.

Freeheld, while noble in its endeavor, is disjointed at best. It’s not to say the soft-hearted wouldn’t shed a tear or two by the time the credits roll, especially as they glimpse images of a cancer-stricken Hester and her loving partner by her side. We just figure they may have a more meaningful viewing experience if they resort to the 2007 documentary.