Freeheld

Yes, here is more awards-season schmaltz from ace affliction sufferer Julianne Moore. This time it’s cancer, but also a reluctant battle for gay rights. Director Peter Sollet’s bland but affecting audience sniffle-generator is precisely the Hollywood version of Cynthia Wade’s like-named documentary that you’d expect. Moore plays New Jersey detective Laurel Hester, a closeted lesbian and devoted county employee whose local Board of Freeholders, 10 years ago, wouldn’t let her will her pension to her domestic partner, played by Ellen Page. Michael Shannon plays Hester’s loyal work partner, who fumbles touchingly through the elevation of his own consciousness — a quietly crusading activist in small-town cop’s clothing. A more-seasoned activist played by Steve Carell vamps and camps until the women’s story becomes a national media event. By the time Hester gets wheeled into the decisive freeholders’ meeting for the movie’s climax, it’s clear that she’s a goner — and so is any opposition. Bald, pale, wheezing, and chemo-wracked, she looks like the dying Darth Vader with his helmet off and his heart open. That’s accurate, as obligatory end-credits photos of the real people in this drama reveal. Appropriately, perhaps, the whole movie feels like a waiting room for the official county government business of doing the right thing. Moore and Page imbue a humdrum expository courtship with warmth and tenderness; they make the wait worthwhile.