In early 2006, the freeholders — the board of local government officials — in Ocean County, New Jersey, finally gave in and agreed, after numerous denials, to let decorated police office Laurel Hester, who was dying of cancer, pass on her pension to her registered domestic partner, Stacie Andree, in the same way that a heterosexual cop would be able to pass on his or her pension to a spouse. The 2007 film of the same name about Hester and Andree, by Cynthia Wade, won the Oscar for Best Documentary Short, and this Freeheld — the first feature from director Peter Sollett since his charming 2008 movie Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist — dramatizes their battle. And while this may be a familiar David-versus-Goliath tale, it is also an inspiring and hugely emotional experience, due in large part to the powerful performances from Julianne Moore (The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2), as Hester, and Ellen Page (X-Men: Days of Future Past), as Andree; Page in particular is very moving as she seems to transmit, directly into the viewer, Andree’s pain at watching the love of her life dying. (The fantastic cast also features Michael Shannon [The Night Before] as Hester’s police partner, whose typical ferocity helps us appreciate how profound such a relationship can be; and Steve Carell [The Big Short] as a gay-rights activist who joins Hester’s fight, bringing some much-needed and completely appropriate humor to the grim scenario.) The inspiration comes in the reminder that seemingly small battles can make a huge difference for many people, and so are worth fighting for reasons beyond the personal. The freeholders had been hesitating to agree to Hester’s request because they feared that allowing same-sex partners pension rights that opposite-sex partners enjoy would pave the way to legalizing same-sex marriage in New Jersey, and then the whole of the United States… and they were correct. And the world has not yet ended.
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