10 years ago New Jersey cop Laurel Hester had to fight tooth and nail – predominantly from her deathbed – for her live-in girlfriend to receive the benefits she deserved as gay civil unions weren’t recognised at the time. It’s the kind of story that will hit close to home for many a viewer, and will potentially anger some as well, but the strength of ‘Freeheld’ lies in its overall inspirational temperament.
A decade isn’t really that long ago for views on same-sex partnerships to be so skewed, and though the US has broken the barrier by legalising gay marriage, Australian audiences will no doubt be heavily affected by aspects of the story that the LGBT communities are still fighting for today. That aside, ‘Freeheld’ is a particularly conventional tale with Laurel (Julianne Moore) surviving her day-to-day existence in a closeted manner, knowing her sexuality could potentially disable any chances of advancing in her department. Her walls slowly start to come down when she meets Stacie (Ellen Page), a confident young mechanic who instigates the change in Laurel accepting her sexuality.
Though the film spends a great deal on the eventual fight for Stacie’s rights as Laurel succumbs to terminal lung cancer, ‘Freeheld’ thankfully takes its time to invest in the relationship between the two women so that we care even moreso when tragedy strikes. Moore, fresh off her Oscar win for ‘Still Alice’, and Page, in one of her first film roles since coming out as a lesbian, make for a believable pairing, despite their age difference, and it’s their chemistry that drives the film above its clichéd simplicities. Elsewhere there’s Michael Shannon, one of the great character actors of his generation, finally getting to play the good guy as Laurel’s working partner, and in his unwavering support for their relationship, as well as his rejection of the rampant homophobia in his office, he brings about some of the film’s finest moments. Steve Carell, who has oddly been absent from a lot of the promotional material, livens the film up considerably as a flamboyant lawyer who takes on Laurel’s case, and his insistence on pushing Shannon’s buttons with his quips allows the film a little room to breathe.
‘Freeheld’ has been made specifically to support the LGBT community as well as open the eyes of those who may not be completely open-minded about gay marriage, and present to them the message that equality is what we are really striving for. Simple but inspirational, and an unashamed tearjerker, ‘Freeheld’ succeeds in its ability to talk to all audiences, regardless of their orientation.

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