Credit: Phil Caruso

Throughout Hollywood’s history of civil rights dramas, actors such as Tom Hanks (Philadelphia) and Sean Penn (Milk) have filled trophy cases playing gay men fighting to be heard. Emphasis on the word men. Freeheld, based on a 2007 Oscar-winning documentary short of the same name, is about a lesbian couple (Ellen Page and Julianne Moore) who challenge a discriminatory partner-benefits law in New Jersey when Moore’s character, police officer Lauren Hester, becomes terminally ill. “Why does it feel like we’re doing something different?” asks director Peter Sollett (Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist). “Is it just because there are female protagonists? It shouldn’t.”

The film may be driven by the performances of Moore and Page, but its story isn’t defined along simple gender lines. And that the events really happened helps prevent Freeheld from slipping in the puddle of propaganda that can often drown “issue” movies. Supporting performances by Steve Carell (as a boisterous gay activist) and Michael Shannon (as a conservative, straight cop who stands up for the couple) highlight the contrasting ways in which varied people can advocate for the same cause. “LGBT issues are best understood when the political and the personal come together,” says Sollett, adding with a little laugh: “When they are married—so to speak.”

Freeheld opens on October 2nd. See the movie’s trailer, below.

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