You'd have to be a monster not to be sniffling by the end of Peter Sollett's Freeheld, a weepy/rousing retelling of real-life gay-rights triumph that serves as a helpful reminder that the dark ages were just, like, ten years ago. I didn't thrum with great feeling for the actresses, as Freeheld wrapped up, but I did for the real women whose story they were attempting to channel -- with mannered shyness, on the part of Ellen Page, and with bald wigs and good-cop warmth by Julianne Moore.
Beneath the clichés of prestige filmmaking beat the hearts of a couple it's a privilege to get to know. Moore plays New Jersey detective Laurel Hester, a closeted lesbian whose guard is chipped away by new girlfriend Stacie Andree (Page), a mechanic who soon moves in with Hester. In '05, Hester is diagnosed with late-stage cancer in her lungs, and she is stunned to discover that even after her 23 years of decorated service, Ocean County, New Jersey, refuses to let her leave her pension to Andree -- a right any married county employee would enjoy.
The scenes of courtship and tentative early connection between Hester and Andree suffer from tonal uncertainty. But after an uncertain start that smooshes unconvincing police drama up against a shorthanded romance, Freeheld surges onto two strong and clear narrative tracks: It's a sharp-enough political drama, building to a public vote, and it's a surprisingly restrained cancer picture.
The actresses fare best in the big scenes, the public speeches and the disease-ravaged moments at home. Their adversaries are essentially cartoons, but, seriously: Have you ever argued with someone who is staunchly against gay rights? They are cartoons.