“Freeheld” and “Grandma”
Two recent films featuring women as protagonists arrived in Winnipeg during a two-week time frame. I enjoyed both films, experiencing the issues raised by the women as they transpired during the film and then reflecting on these timely issues during subsequent days.
The titles intrigue; grandma is a term with many connotations but those might be questioned as the film transpires. Freehold is a term used in property management. Why has it been adapted to become the title of a film?
Julianne Moore and Ellen Page portray Laurel Hester, a policewoman, and her partner, Stacie Andree, an auto mechanic. The film documents the true story of Hester, a respected police officer in Ocean County, New Jersey, her relationship with Stacie, her struggle with lung cancer and their battle with the Chosen Freeholders of Ocean City who deny Stacie Hester’s pension benefits after her death. Moore and Page do not disappoint; their performances are a testament to their artistic excellence.
Ocean County elects 5 individuals, the Chosen Freeholders, to govern the town. In denying Hester’s request that her benefits be given to Stacie, they use a clause in the governance procedures that county employees can be treated differently. That crutch becomes the public response to hide rigid belief systems.
Hester’s police partner becomes her strongest ally in the fight to obtain equal benefits for civil partners. When he discovers that Hester has lived in the closet throughout their partnership, initially he feels betrayed but over time accepts her relationship with Stacie. Gradually he allows himself to continue to respect his former partner.
Grandma Ella (Lily Tomlin) is a feisty, lesbian writer who has recently lost her long time partner, Violet. In an attempt to pay off the debts incurred for medical care during Violet’s illness, Ella has cut up her credit cards and drawn on her savings. She has also dismissed her current lover, Olivia. No sooner has Olivia left the apartment than Sage, (Julie Garner), Ella’s granddaughter, arrives at the door asking for money to pay for an abortion. Both Ella and Sage agree that they cannot contact Judy, (Marcia Gay Harden) Sage’s mother and Ella’s daughter to ask for money. How has this strange intrafamilial relationship effectively separating three generations of women occurred. Through innuendo, the audience slowly constructs an understanding of the lives of the three women. Ella and Sage visit people who have been part of Ella’s past, begging for sums of money. During each visit, Ella peels away layers of her identity, revealing glimpses of her multiple selves. As a last resort, they descent on Judy whose reaction to the news of the unwanted pregnancy seems to fit Ella’s and Sage;s perceptions of her. Money in hand, the two arrive, almost without incident, at the clinic.
Both films are timely; both films highlight positive long-term relationships between women. Freeheld describes events that occurred almost 20 years ago in Ocean City. The film highlights entrenched beliefs about homosexuality. Hester has led a secret life, travelling away from her community for friendship. The Chosen Freeholders and one of her colleagues are openly biased. Her former colleagues are reluctant to support her request. Stacie is targeted at her place of work. Grandma, on the other hand, perhaps due to its California location, highlights difference. Ella’s lifestyle is not questioned by her friends, most of whom live just on the fringes of mainstream life. Her friends volunteer at abortion clinics, operate tattoo parlours and own funky coffee shops.