By B. Root
In queer cinema, February brings us two stories of love, individuality, and fighting for what’s right: Freeheld (a new DVD release) and Edge of Seventeen (a re-release).
Based on the 2007 documentary of the same name, Freeheld follows the real-life story of Laurel Hester (Julianne Moore). Hester gives 23 years of her life as a detective in New Jersey’s Orange County Police Department. Hester loves her job so much that it seems at times she puts her job before her own self. Because of this, Hester decides to stay in the closet at work so as to not be discriminated against or possibly fired. She must also socialize outside of Orange County in order to protect her privacy.
After a volleyball match in Pennsylvania, Hester meets one of her opponents, Stacie Andree (Ellen Page), who asks for her number. From there, they begin seeing each other and going out. On one of their first dates, Hester asks Andree if she has a big dream. Andree responds, “My big dream is kind of small: a woman I love, who loves me, a house, a dog.” Hester replies, “Yeah. Me, too.”
Fast-forward one year, and it seems as if their dreams are becoming a reality: they purchase a house together, adopt a dog, and soon register as domestic partners. Everything seems to be working out nicely for the couple until a pain in Hester’s side changes everything. When Hester is diagnosed with late-stage lung cancer, Andree takes the optimistic approach, convinced they will beat this. Hester is more realistic and wants to make sure that in case she passes, Andree will be taken care of. Hester applies to have her pension benefits transferred to Andree upon her death; however, the Ocean County Board of Freeholders denies this request. With the help of Hester’s partner on the force, Dane Wells (Michael Shannon), and Steven Goldstein (Steve Carell), along with the rest of Garden State Equality, Hester and Andree fight back against the board’s decision and stand up for equality. As Hester puts it, “The only thing I care about is justice for the woman that I love.”
With a mesmerizing story and exceptional performances from Moore and Page, Freeheld will keep audiences rooting for Hester and Andree throughout the entire film.
Called a “classic gay coming-of-age story,” Edge of Seventeen is being re-released in a newly re-mastered, director-approved HD restoration. Set in Sandusky, Ohio, in 1984, teenager Eric Hunter (Chris Stafford) struggles with his sexuality. Working a summer job at the local fast-food joint with Maggie (Tina Holmes), his best friend whom everyone presumes to be his girlfriend, Eric meets Rod (Anderson Gabrych), an openly gay Ohio State college student. Eric spends a thrilling and fun-filled summer with Maggie, Rod, and his boss, Angie (Orange Is the New Black’s Lea Delaria), who turns out to be his biggest supporter. As the summer comes to a close, Eric’s attraction to Rod heightens until the last day of work when Eric and Rod ditch the end of their shift to go out together for cheese fries. Forgetting about their food, Eric and Rod leave the restaurant for a motel room, where they kiss for the first time.
When school starts again in the fall, Rod is no longer around and Eric is left to explore his sexuality on his own—which is complicated by his budding romance with Maggie.
Although Edge of Seventeen is set in a different time (when coming out in a white, middle-class family was a bigger deal than it might be today), Eric’s struggle with trying to figure out who he is, and then standing up for that person to his friends and family, still proves to be relevant today. Featuring a wonderful, upbeat ’80s soundtrack and a hilarious performance by DeLaria, Edge of Seventeen serves as a reminder of the still-real issues that LGBT youth face when coming out.
Freeheld and Edge of Seventeen will both be available on DVD and Blu-ray this month.
B. Root is a frequent contributor to OutSmart magazine.