It’s rare for a film to align so serendipitously with the times, but “Freeheld,” director Peter Sollett’s new drama, is one of those movies. A narrative expansion of the documentary short that nabbed an Oscar in 2007, it tells the true story of terminally ill Laurel Hester (Julianne Moore) and her younger partner, Stacie Andree (Ellen Page), two New Jersey women who, while facing tragedy, also faced injustice. At the time (2005), the couple’s home state could arbitrarily grant domestic partner benefits county by county, and in Hester and Andree’s county, those benefits were denied. The fight for Hester to leave her pension to Andree made national news, and their victory was one of the major steps toward marriage equality.
Today, of course, couples like Hester and Andree do not need to fight these battles, and the most powerful thing about “Freeheld,” with respect to its subjects’ misfortune (Hester ultimately died in ’06 at 49), is that its central conflict feels archaic, even quaint. For the modern American, this film reflects how far the queer community has come in 10 short years, and it just so happens that it’s being released in the same year the Supreme Court voted in favor of same-sex marriage.
The film itself is not exactly boasting the stuff that must-sees are made of. Its script sticks closely to a familiar struggle-for-justice formula; Sollett doesn’t exhibit much formal dexterity; and Moore, relative to the feats she has achieved as an actress, is largely serviceable in a role that begs her to dig in her teeth.
But Page — who also serves as producer and has been tied to the film since age 21 — is revelatory in her shrewdly lax, reserved portrayal of Andree, and it is certainly palpable that this out actress is making work that is true to her heart. As Hester’s colleague and a crowd-rallying ally, Michael Shannon is characteristically superb, his rugged looks paired with a sensitive disposition. But the film’s broader, time-capsule-esque achievements are what truly make it special, its inherent virtues bolstered by a whole new world to which it provides perspective.
2.5 reels out of 4
Now playing at The Ritz Five
“Magic Mike XXL”
With “Magic Mike,” Steven Soderbergh turned what many thought would be a shallow romp into a probing, pristinely put-together piece of cinema. With its sequel, director Craig Jacobs simply grabs the material and runs with it — and that’s just fine. If the first film was popular art, the second is just a party, with charisma to burn from the likes of Channing Tatum and newcomer Donald Glover. Round up your friends (and dollar bills), and enjoy the ride. ■