The good news about Freeheld is that the true-life situation it depicts—lesbian police detective Laurel Hester (Julianne Moore), dying from cancer, unable to pass her pension along to Stacie (Ellen Page), her longtime domestic partner—should no longer be a concern thanks to the legalization of gay marriage. The bad news is that Laurel and Stacie’s legacy is being honored with such flat, uninspired drama, a movie-of-the-week-level narrative that does little service to the difficult fight they fought. Moore and Page (also one of the film’s producers) stumble awkwardly through Laurel and Stacie’s early courtship, and the movie also clumsily introduces Laurel’s law-enforcement skills with a barely developed subplot about a murder investigation.
Director Peter Sollett and screenwriter Ron Nyswaner move things along briskly, so that Laurel goes from having a pain in her side to a doctor’s visit to late-stage cancer within a handful of scenes. Moore and Page bring out the heartfelt emotions in the story, but the movie frustratingly loses focus on them in the second half, as both Laurel’s police-force partner (Michael Shannon) and a flamboyant gay-rights activist (Steve Carell) spend time arguing with the local government (known as freeholders) on her behalf. A story about a lesbian couple fighting for their rights shifts to a story about various men deciding their fate. Both the movie and the men in Laurel’s life are well-intentioned, but both seem to be ultimately missing what’s important about her struggle.