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“Freeheld” quietly enters theaters as an under the radar Oscar player

It’s fascinating to see how an awards player can see its stock rise and fall throughout Oscar season. Much like last week’s Stonewall, which went from a potential contender to throughly a pretender, Freeheld has seen its fortunes change ever since its debut on the film festival circuit. The movie is hitting theaters this week with less buzz than you’d expect, though that doesn’t mean that this one is dead. A lot will have to do with the precursors, which could easily resurrect the film. As such, I wanted to give it another quick mention and keep it on all of our minds…

In case you don’t remember from the last time I talked about Freeheld, the film is about same sex marriage and centers on two women fighting for the benefits that straight couples take for granted. Laurel Hester (Julianne Moore) is a Lieutenant in the New Jersey police force who encounters a struggle when she attempts to pass on her pension to her partner after developing terminal cancer. Her partner is a woman named Stacie Andree (Ellen Page) and is only her domestic partner (yes, it’s a period piece even though it’s from less than a decade ago), so she’s denied. Thus begins a level fight that spurred a documentary on the subject. Peter Sollett directs, while Ron Nyswaner wrote the screenplay. In addition to Moore and Page, the cast includes Steve Carell, Josh Charles, Luke Grimes, Michael Shannon, and a handful more. It’s prestige through and through, at least on paper. The reviews so far haven’t suggested that, however.

At the Toronto International Film Festival, pundits got the first look at the movie and weren’t especially impressed. Moore and Page got some nice mentions, but not quite what any of us had been expecting. Carell wasn’t given much praise, while the whole product apparently just isn’t the moving piece that the Trailer initially had suggested. It’s not the out and out failure that Stonewall turned out to be, both critically and commercially, but the film definitely took a big hit. Prior to Toronto, it was a potential nominee in a number of spots. Now? Basically, it’s holding on for dear life, hoping for the precursors to throw some bones its way and give it a fighting chance for a citation or two.

Assuming we had a worthy player on our hands, there were plenty of possibilities for the Academy to latch on to here in terms of awards. They’re still there, but hardly as likely. The categories? Obviously there’s Best Picture, along with Best Director (for Sollett), Best Actress (Moore), Best Supporting Actor (Carell or Shannon), Best Supporting Actress (Page), Best Original Screenplay (for Nyswaner), and possibly Best Film Editing or Best Makeup and Hairstyling as well. At one point I had Page represented in my predictions, but I’ve moved away from the flick entirely. That doesn’t mean that Freeheld is completely dead in the water, but it does suggest that perception isn’t too good here. Time will tell…

Ultimately, we’ll have to see how Freeheld does, starting on Friday when it enters the marketplace in limited release. If audiences respond to it, there’s a definite chance that the early awards will look to support the candidacy of Moore or Page. They’re really who you need to hang your hat on if you’re a supporter of the film, though anything is possible, I suppose. The odds don’t favor this one, but stranger things have happened. Regardless of awards, it’s got a strong message and is something to take a look at if/when it’s in a cinema near you.

Be sure to check out Freeheld when it begins its theatrical run in limited release this weekend!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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