'Freeheld' Review: Your Mom Will Love It!

By Rebecca Pahle | Film | October 5, 2015 | Comments ()

By Rebecca Pahle | Film | October 5, 2015 |


Guys. I don’t know whether I like Freeheld.

I think I do. 90% certain. 85%. 73%. 60%?

Here’s the thing: Freeheld, about the attempts of a detective dying of cancer to pass her pension on to her domestic partner (something straight couples have absolutely no problem doing with their spouses), is an emotionally manipulative, cheesy sobfest. There’s no subtlety to it at all. Director Peter Sollett spends the entire movie acting like a high school bully giving his audience a swirly: “Are you gonna cry, nerd? Huh? Awwww, you want your mommy?”

I, an unrepentant cynical bitch who loathes emotionally manipulative filmmaking, did cry, though. Bald Julianne Moore. Pocket-sized Ellen Page trying to keep it together as the love of her life dies after only a few short years together. Moore’s cop coworkers confronting their own prejudices and having to decide whether they’re going to stay the course or stick up for her. This movie played me like a fiddle. It fucking got me.

Freeheld may be schmaltzy as fuck, but it never tried not to be. Several things about this movie frame it as a quote-unquote Important Film—the presence of last year’s Best Actress Oscar winner Julianne Moore; it coming out (heh) during awards season at a time when marriage equality is more on people’s minds than ever; it being based on an Osar-winning documentary short—and if you go in expecting it to be one of the best films of the year, you’ll be disappointed. But… a part of deciding whether you think a movie is good or not is judging it up against what it intended to do, you know? Bridget Jones’ Diary and Citizen Kane are great movies in different ways. You can’t get around the awfulness of Transformers: Age of Extinction by saying “it doesn’t matter, it was supposed to be stupid!,” but at the same time, I don’t go into Furious 7 expecting brilliantly constructed character arcs.

Freeheld is not an Oscar movie. Freeheld is an HBO-on-a-Sunday-afternoon-because-you-don’t-have-anything-else-to-do movie, and as an HBO-on-a-Sunday-afternoon-because-you-don’t-have-anything-else-to-do movie, it’s solid. Moore turns in a convincing performance, if not one that approaches the vicinity of her career top five. Page got those tear ducts working. Michael Shannon, as Moore’s long-time work partner, is amazing, but the man could turn in an Oscar-worthy performance in a Uwe Boll movie, so that doesn’t necessarily mean anything about the quality of the film as a whole.

Steve Carell… I don’t know what the fuck Steve Carell is doing here, but it’s embarassing. He plays the flamboyant leader of a local gay rights organization, and his performance careens back and forth between drama (I AM AN OSCAR-NOMINATED ACTOR NOW, GOD DAMMIT, AND YOU WILL RESPECT ME) and comedy (“The worst thing about prison was the Dementors”) like a yarmulke-wearing Weeble. Carell’s in a different movie than everyone else in a bad way, and Shannon’s in a different movie than everyone else in a good way. That’s just what he does. And if you don’t think so, you are henceforth invited to

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