Saturday, October 10, 2015

"Freeheld": remake of a 2007 short film traces a major gay "domestic partner" case in New Jersey, with some political correctness


Freeheld”, directed by  Peter Sollett  , is an acted feature based on Cynthia Wade’s short (40 minutes) documentary reviewed here June 17, 2007.  The short film was viewed as a powerful statement in the fight for gay marriage equality.  The new film seems a bit politically correct and routine, by comparison. Wade is a producer for this film. 

Julianne Moore plays Laurel Hester, a lesbian police lieutenant on Ocean County, NJ.  The first third of the movie shows her working drug cases and meeting her younger partner Stacie Andree (Ellen Page), who works as a car mechanic.  When Stacie moves in to their new fixer-upper-home, they are a bit closeted but gradually become more open.  Dane Wells, played by Michael Shannon (“99 Homes”, Oct. 3) rapidly becomes more supportive.  The couple registers as domestic partners account to the state law then. That was viewed as progressive at the time.

Laurel’s 2005 diagnosis with advanced lung cancer is rather sudden, after experiencing some “muscle pains”.  She deteriorates quickly, and soon Laurel is in a fight to have her pension benefits go to her partner. 

New Jersey law at the time permitted county employees to get domestic partner benefits but did not require it (as it did for state employees).  This threw the “freeholders” of Ocean County into a political crisis.  One of them says, he could be encouraging “gay marriage”, and then how could he face his own wife and family?  The thinking of the time, so recent, seems shocking and even comical in its lack of logic.  But people often feel that for traditional “institutions” requiring some self-sacrifice to work, everyone has to sign on to the same rules.

Steve Carell (“The 40 Year Old Virgin”) plays Steve Goldstein, the “gay Jew” and Chairman of Garden State Equality.  Yes, the demonstrations, and a final nearly deathbed appeal from Laurel at a meeting changes the political equation.

I grew up in a culture that did not try to make heroes of people overcoming medical adversity.  I’ve even been half-approached by the idea that, if I am a true “writer”, why don’t I take on writing someone else’s story, like this? Indeed, in my own fictive manuscripts, the heroes are still such, rather like Clark Kent or, say, and Ephram Brown. Personally, I would find continuous intimacy with someone in Laurel’s straits untenable, something I never considered as necessary in the culture in which I was raised.  (The movie shows Laurel smoking, as if she had brought this on with “behavior”.) This would come up in the heterosexual world when a marital partner has, obviously, breast cancer or advanced prostate cancer.

Then I get the Christian pitch – nobody is “good enough”, we all must love each other faithfully because Christ sacrificed for us.  I hear that approach a lot.  Does ice-water run through my veins?
The official site is here.  (Summit).

I saw the film at Angelika Mosaic in Fairfax Virginia, before a crowd Saturday afternoon considerably smaller than I would have expected.

Picture:  Seaside Heights, NJ (opening scene of film), my picture from 2013, after Hurricane Sandy. The credits say, however, that the film was shot in New York State.

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