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'Freeheld' review: Julianne Moore outshines the material

Julianne Moore, left, and Ellen Page appear in

Julianne Moore, left, and Ellen Page appear in a scene from "Freeheld." Photo Credit: AP / Phil Caruso


A terminally ill detective fights to have her pension given to her same-sex partner. Rated PG-13 (thematic elements, language and sexuality).


Moore outshines her material.


Julianne Moore, Ellen Page, Steve Carell, Michael Shannon



"Freeheld," the based-on-fact story of a dying New Jersey police detective who in 2005 fights to leave her pension to her domestic partner, is a politically correct romantic weepie that plays like a self-congratulatory victory lap for gay rights in general and same-sex marriage in particular.

As directed by Peter Sollett and scripted by Ron Nyswaner, who wrote the similarly earnest "Philadelphia" more than 20 years ago, "Freeheld" begins with a romance so sweet and so square it could have sprung from a same-sex Nicholas Sparks novel.

Julianne Moore is excellent as Laurel Hester, a woman who makes the kind of arrests that become front-page news. Because she wants to be the first woman on the Ocean County force to make lieutenant, Hester has kept her sexuality a secret from everyone, even her equally hard-nosed police partner, Dane Wells (a quietly effective Michael Shannon).

All that starts to change at an all-female volleyball game where Hester catches the eye of Stacie Andree (Ellen Page), a considerably younger woman, and before you know it, the two women have bought a house together. Hester and Andree register as a couple under New Jersey's Domestic Partnership Act, and then Hester is diagnosed with stage 4 cancer.

Hester wants her police pension to go to Andree, but the Ocean County Board of Chosen Freeholders, the governmental body with authority over Hester's pension, rejects her petition because of "the sanctity of marriage."

Also involved is Steven Goldstein, the head of a group called Garden State Equality. A self-described "big, loud, gay Jew," Goldstein, at least as played by Steve Carell, is more of a caricature than this film needs.

Though her screen time diminishes, Moore gets more compelling as her character gets sicker, and Page, who starts out uncertain, gains in confidence as the film progresses.

Yet it speaks to what is lacking in "Freeheld" that its most emotional section is that of the photographs at the close of Laurel Hester and Stacie Andree. Those pictures remind us that these events happened to real people, something the standard nature of so much of "Freeheld" makes it easy to forget.

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