Laurel Hester is a name that may or may not ring a bell with most people. I say this not to lessen her, but because of how we just move on from news story to news story in our current 24-hour cycle, it’s hard to retain all that information. Select news stories though might make it as a book or even a movie. For Lester’s story, it started in 2007 with the Oscar winning short documentary “Freeheld” which now has a feature with the same title, with a cast and a writer that looks to do her story justice.
Hester (Julianne Moore) is a Detective for the Ocean County Police Department, and has worked for them for 23 years. If the amount of service wasn’t enough, Hester was also the first woman in her department to achieve the rank of Lieutenant. Her life would change dramatically when she was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2004. Not given a strong chance to survive, Hester began the process of being able to pass on her pension to her partner, something that became a problem because her partner was a woman. Hester wanted to be sure that Stacie (Ellen Page), her partner could maintain their mortgage on the house they bought together after she was gone. The county did not agree with the same sex partners and turned down her request. What followed was two years of fighting, with Hester getting help from fellow officer Dane Wells (Michael Shannon) and an activist named Steven Goldstein (Steve Carell), together they were able to give Hester a chance at the same opportunities other couples may take for granted.
The story of Hester and her partner Stacie is a great story of change. As a short documentary it played well, but as a feature, well, maybe not so much. The first problem is the story feels too generic and plays more like a TV movie of the week, or the Lifetime equivalent. The screenplay by Ron Nyswaner (Philadelphia) feels lifeless and nowhere near his previous work. The fault though doesn’t just belong to the writer. The cast, with the exception of Moore, just doesn’t feel right. Shannon, whose awkwardness plays so well in the roles he chooses, feels out of place here. With Page and Carell, one feels under cooked while the other is over the top. The majority of the movie feels flat, even if the subject is one of the hot topics in our society the timing is right on. Unfortunately even a broke clock is on time twice a day, and with “Freeheld” though the time is right to tell a story like this one, it is just not told in the most inspiring of ways.
If you are interested in this story seek out the Oscar winning documentary short, because that gives the right amount of information and emotion. You have many choices when you go to the theater each weekend, with you many good and bad ones all the time. Let me save you this bad choice, because there is a better choice for this story, and this is not the one.