An elab­o­rate game of hide and weep

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM REVIEWS - TARA BRADY

FREE­HELD Di­rected by Peter Sol­lett. Star­ring Ju­lianne Moore, Ellen Page, Michael Shan­non, Steve Carell. 12A, gen re­lease, 103mins Lau­rel Hester (Moore), is a dec­o­rated New Jersey po­lice of­fi­cer with the news­pa­per cut­tings to prove it when she meets the ex­cit­ing and ut­terly smit­ten young garage me­chanic Stacie An­dree ( Page) at a vol­ley­ball game.

Al­though Hester’s col­leagues, in­clud­ing her part­ner Dane Wells ( Shan­non), knew she was a les­bian, Hester is ini­tially guarded about her new re­la­tion­ship. It re­quires a con­sid­er­able amount of fig­u­ra­tive swoon­ing for the cou­ple to fi­nally get over the hump, ac­quire a puppy and move in to­gether as reg­is­tered do­mes­tic part­ners. Tragedy strikes in 2005, when the chain-smok­ing Hester (af­ter a whole lot of shot­gun-over­the-man­tel tok­ing and drag­ging) is di­ag­nosed with ter­mi­nal and ag­gres­sively spread­ing lung can­cer.

The cops have no prob­lem in ex­tend­ing spousal pen­sion rights to the same-sex cou­ple, but the county board says dif­fer­ently.

Ron Nyswaner ( Philadel­phia) wrote this fea­ture-length adap­ta­tion of Cyn­thia Wade’s 2007 Os­car-win­ning short film Free­held but has ex­pressed reser­va­tions about di­rec­tor Peter Sol­lett’s fi­nal cut. We may not know ex­actly how Nyswaner en­vis­aged Hester and An­dree’s his­toric strug­gle, but there’s noth­ing to match the women’s brav­ery ef­forts in this care­ful drama.

Flat, and lack­ing the archly dead­ened at­tributes of Todd Haynes’ Carol, a quar­tet of World’s Great­est Ac­tors work hard to an­i­mate a timid movie: Moore’s Hester soft­ens, Page’s An­dree floun­ders, Car­rell’s sup­port­ing ac­tivist is post-Act Up loud and Shan­non brings a dig­ni­fied, pained hu­man­ity to an in­creas­ingly mes­meris­ing role.

To be fair, Free­held can’t be ac­cused, as Roland Em­merich’s Stonewall has, of be­ing a com­plete straight-wash. The film may tip­toe around both can­cer and ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity, but that ar­guably does mir­ror Hester and An­dree’s own de­sire for dis­cre­tion.

The real-life an­tecedents do more to merit the weepie de­noue­ment than the film it­self: yet weep you shall, none­the­less.

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