A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Freeheld is based on the real-life relationship between New Jersey police detective Laurel Hester (Julianne Moore) and Stacie Andree (Elliot Page), a young auto mechanic 18 years her junior. It's an inspiring story about a hard-fought struggle for equality under the law, but it's also difficult to watch because it shows a woman with stage 4 cancer trying desperately to get her partner benefits after she dies -- themes that are too intense for younger viewers. The film doesn't shy away from showing what a cancer-stricken person looks and sounds like, and there are scenes that show gun shots and drug busts. You can also expect some swearing ("s--t," "a--hole") and the use of homophobic slurs on a few occasions. Sexual content is limited to a tender embrace/kiss between the main characters.
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What's the story?
Laurel Hester (Julianne Moore) is a veteran Ocean County, New Jersey, Police Detective who falls in love with Stacie Andree (Elliot Page), an auto mechanic 18 years her junior. But there's no happily ever after for the couple, because Laurel is diagnosed with stage 4 cancer -- and one of her dying requests is to pass on her pension benefits to her domestic partner. When the county freeholders (community leaders) reject her request, Laurel's work partner, Dane (Michael Shannon), and a gay rights activist (Steve Carell) take up her fight, demanding the same rights already available to any straight married couple.
Is it any good?
There are so many reasons to recommend FREEHELD: For starters, the real-life story on which it's based is inspiring and important. And the always-great Moore is so good as Laurel Hester that you can almost feel the pain of every breath she takes once Laurel is diagnosed with cancer. It's refreshing to see Shannon play a good guy (and do it well), and the ensemble, on the whole, is impressive (though Carell seems to be on a different wavelength tonally).
In fact, the film means so well overall that it's tough to criticize it, but its dogged devotion to telling the story chronologically gives it a paint-by-numbers feel. There's so much timeline to cram in that we hardly see how -- or more importantly, why -- Laurel and Stacie fall in love with such force and intensity. And Freeheld also summarizes Laurel's career in a way that diminishes its potency. Yes, by the end, we share in the movie's feeling of triumph, but even that is muted by an earnestness that overpowers its beauty and spark.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Freeheld's messages. What point is it making about equality? Is that point only applicable to a certain group or to everyone who wants to be treated the same under the law?
Why do you think the Ocean County freeholders didn't want to let Laurel assign her pension to Stacie? How has this policy changed over time?
Is Laurel a role model? Why or why not? Do you think the movie is true to what actually happened? Why might filmmakers choose to tweak the facts in movies based on true stories?
The film doesn't shy away from showing what it looks like to die from cancer. Is it realistic? Empathetic?
- In theaters: October 2, 2015
- On DVD or streaming: February 2, 2016
- Cast: Elliot Page, Julianne Moore, Michael Shannon
- Director: Peter Sollett
- Studio: Summit Entertainment
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Great Girl Role Models
- Run time: 96 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: some thematic elements, language and sexuality
- Last updated: February 23, 2021
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