This story of love, justice and equality is a shining example of excellent filmmaking

Based on the Sundance and Academy Award- winning documentary of the same name, Freeheld is both love story and courtroom drama, with a bit of police procedural thrown in. Dramatized by Ron Nyswaner (Philadelphia), the love story part follows hard-boiled New Jersey cop Laurel Hester (Julianne Moore) as she busts drug dealers on the boardwalk and tries to make lieutenant. She is happy in her work, but lonely – and in the closet. Everything changes for her though when she meets the much younger mechanic Stacie Andree (Ellen Page) at a volleyball game. Overcoming concern for the age difference and Laurel’s natural defenses, they are soon madly in love, registering for same-sex partnership and buying and renovating a house together. All seems well until Laurel is diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, kicking off the courtroom drama. Determined to leave her pension to Stacie so she can keep the house, she lobbies her employer, the county – yet they are unwilling to extend the same benefits to her as they would a married couple. She then spends her final days fighting for equality, becoming a cause célèbre for the issue of gay marriage before eventually winning.
Somewhat overtaken by events – the U.S. Supreme Court legalized marriage for everyone while production was wrapping up –  Freeheld still stands tall as an exquisitely crafted film. As the story had already been told as a documentary, director Peter Sollet (Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist) opted for a “romantic naturalist” look, showing the world as the star-struck lovers perceive it. With cinematography by Mayse Alberti (The Wrestler) and a score by Hans Zimmer, even Ocean County, New Jersey looks amazing. Excellent performances by Moore (despite Farrah Fawcett hair) and Page make dull-sounding legislature meetings by the county’s  board of chosen freeholders over employee benefits seem engrossing. Supporting them are character actor Michael Shannon (Take Shelter) and Steve Carell, nearly stealing the show as gay rights activist Steven Goldstein.

Starts Apr 8, Artis