Freeheld (2015)

Director: Peter Sollett
Writer: Ron Nyswaner
Based on: Laurel Hester‘s life and the documentary about that
Cast: Julianne Moore, Ellen Page, Michael Shannon, Steve Carell, Luke Grimes, Josh Charles
Seen on: 14.4.2016

Laurel (Julianne Moore) falls in love with Stacie (Ellen Page) and vice versa. The two build their life together, a life that Laurel carefully shields from her job as a cop and even her partner Dane (Michael Shannon). But then she is diagnosed with cancer and things are not looking good. As Laurel realizes that she’ll probably not survive, she knows that she has to fight to have Stacie and her (civil) partnership with her recogniced by the city council to make sure that Stacie will get the spousal pension after Laurel’s death. But the council is not willing to make that happen.

Freeheld is a conservatively made film about a progressive topic: while the filmmaking here is not revolutionary, the fight for queer rights is and as we keep seeing over and over again, it’s unfortunately far from won. So keep the films on coming and if they push every emotional button in the most obvious way, it’s even better: people obviously still need the basic lessons.


I’m not into marriage myself, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t think that two consenting adults shouldn’t be able to marry if they want to – no matter their gender (or anything else). The civil unions that have started to pop up everywhere (in Austria, too) to sidestep the issue are supposed to be an equal substitute. But some things are more equal than others. To no one’s surprise it turns out that if you institute a second thing that’s supposed to be equal to the first thing, differences between the two things will be made.

Freeheld shows that the quest for marriage equality isn’t simply a frivolous “one last thing” kind of fight (meaning that attention should be focused elsewhere, a classic derailing tactic that delegitimizes any kind of fight against injustice). Having second class unions is unfair and it hurts people and it’s definitely a legitimate issue to have with the (legal) system. That this is a point that still has to be spelled out for people, is upsetting but that doesn’t make it any less true.

freeheld1To be fair, most of the queer community knows that. A lot of us have experienced it in varying degrees of directness and severity. Watching it from that point of view is like sitting on stage next to a speaker who makes all the points you want to make and nodding along enthusiastically. But the speaker is speaking to another audience: those of the straight people who don’t really know. Who may be convinced yet.

And the film does its hardest to convince. At one point during the film, Steven (Steve Carell), the guy at the head of a queer rights organization that swoops in to give Laurel some momentum in her fight, explicitely states that he has been waiting for a case just like this to take the fight further. And the film proves his assessment of the situation right: it’s the ideal case to make in the cinema as well. Fortunately (and not just a little bit due to the performances of Julianne Moore and Ellen Page) the film never loses sight of the fact that we’re not just talking about a case and a fight, but human beings who are experiencing a tragedy that is aggravated from all sides.

That attempt to convince means that the film is sometimes a little too nice and a little too sweet and certainly not angry enough. But it does get its point across rather effectively.

freeheld2Summarizing: Definitely worth watching.

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