Tag Archives: ocean county

Review: ‘Freeheld’ is based on real-life domestic partner case

Few actresses bring the simple authenticity to the screen that Julianne Moore does; it’s virtually impossible to imagine this actress sounding a false note. And so it’s hardly a surprise that she is deeply convincing — indeed, heartbreaking at times — in the real-life role of Laurel Hester, a dying woman who fought to her last breath to give her domestic partner rights to her pension benefits.

If Freeheld, directed by Peter Sollett, packs much less of a punch than did Moore’s shattering Alzheimer’s drama Still Alice, which justly won her an Oscar, it’s not because of the acting — Ellen Page and Michael Shannon also turn in admirable work — but because the film (and the script by Ron Nyswaner) doesn’t give these characters, or their relationships, enough detail and depth to really bring us in below the surface. Instead, it’s a well-made but matter-of-fact account of a gripping story, one made more poignant by the advances made in gay rights in the decade since.

We begin in 2002. Laurel Hester is a devoted police detective in Ocean County, New Jersey, with two decades of work under her belt and the goal of becoming the first female lieutenant on her force. With this goal in mind, she hides her sexuality from colleagues, even from her longtime partner, Dane (Shannon). Indeed, she goes all the way to Pennsylvania to find a date. At a volleyball game, she meets Stacie Andree (Page), a much younger auto mechanic.

A year later, they’re an established couple, renovating a home and becoming official domestic partners. But then tragedy hits. A persistent pain in Laurel’s torso turns out to be advanced lung cancer. Stacie vows the couple will beat the disease. Laurel, never one for sugarcoating a situation, knows how bleak the odds are.

The movie then takes an abrupt turn into a legal drama. Laurel requests in writing that her pension benefits be transferred to Stacie, who otherwise will have to leave their beloved home, upon her death. The decision falls to the Ocean County freeholders, a body of five Republicans, and they turn her down, despite the existence of a state Domestic Partnership Act. One of the freeholders worries: “People could just make anybody their partners.” Only one member is sympathetic to Laurel’s cause, but joins in a unanimous vote.

The fight escalates when Laurel appears at a freeholder’s meeting, but the decision remains the same. The case gets into the media, though, and pressure grows. Meanwhile, we watch Laurel endure the ravages of chemo, see her get violently ill, see her hair fall out. We’ve watched this sad trajectory in countless movies, but Moore has a way of making most anything seem like we haven’t quite seen it before.

The film changes tone yet again when Steve Carell enters the picture as Steven Goldstein, a larger-than-life activist who urges Laurel to broaden her fight to include gay marriage. Laurel, ever the pragmatist, says that’s not her battle. Carell makes Goldstein brash, passionate and broadly funny, and though his entertaining characterization might well be accurate (the real Goldstein was sitting in front of me at my screening, and seemed to greatly enjoy the portrayal), the sudden influx of humor is somewhat jarring, given the tone until then.

The final scenes are both cathartic and, in the case of Laurel’s final moments, hard to watch — Moore is frail, white, and completely bald. It’s impressive to see the photos of real-life scenes at the end, and realize how carefully the filmmakers recreated the story.

And it’s hard not to get swept up in the moment when an onscreen epilogue reminds us that in June, the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples can marry. Which makes Freeheld an important lesson in how quickly times, and attitudes, can change.

Freeheld, a Lionsgate release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America “for some thematic elements, language and sexuality.” Running time: 103 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.


Man faces charges in connection with disappearance of Rosie O’Donnell’s teen daughter

The owner of the home where Rosie O’Donnell’s missing teen daughter was found last week has been arrested for allegedly having inappropriate online communications with the 17-year-old girl, according to authorities and the star’s spokeswoman.

Steven Sheerer faces charges of child endangerment and distribution of obscenity to a minor, authorities said Saturday.

The Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office declined to identify the victim, citing her age. But a spokeswoman for O’Donnell said the case involves the star’s daughter Chelsea.

“He was involved with a minor, and Rosie’s concern has been and always will be the health, safety and well-being of her daughter,” Cindi Berger told The Associated Press. “Rosie is profoundly appreciative for the work the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office has done and the diligence of the local police.”

Sheerer, 25, was arrested Friday night at his home in Barnegat, police said. Chelsea O’Donnell had been found at the home Tuesday, hours after her mother posted a statement online saying the girl had left home on Aug. 11.

Authorities have said police went to the home and the person answering the door initially did not want to reveal Chelsea’s presence. Police said they told the occupant they would not leave until she came out; she then appeared and willingly left with police.

Sheerer’s arrest came several hours after authorities had obtained the girl’s cellphone with her mother’s consent, prosecutors said. They allegedly found “inappropriate communications” that had occurred over the last several weeks between Sheerer and the minor.

Authorities seized a computer and other digital equipment at Sheerer’s home when they executed a search warrant, but did not disclose further details.

It was not known Saturday if Sheerer had retained an attorney and a telephone number for him could not be located. His bail was set at $40,000 cash, and he faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted, authorities said.

Sheerer will likely be arraigned sometime next week, but a court date has not yet been scheduled, prosecutors said.

Court records show Sheerer pleaded guilty to drug offenses in separate cases in 2012 and 2013. In each case, he was sentenced to two years of probation.

NJ men sue for sexual harassment

Three New Jersey men are suing their former employer and supervisor in federal court for alleged same-sex sexual harassment.

The complaint names Dirk DeHooge, Adam Klimas and Jeffrey Coates as the plaintiffs and general manager James Rebiesz and Causeway Automotive in Ocean County, N.J., as defendants. The suit alleges a civil rights violation in employment and seeks damages.

The plaintiffs allege that at work they were subjected to sexually explicit and offensive comments made by Rebiesz, and also unwanted touching and other “unwanted, uninvited, zealous” advances.

The complaint says that Rebiesz’ actions and comments created a hostile work environment and that Causeway Automotive, as an employer, did nothing to correct the situation, giving “Rebiesz free reign to sexually prey upon his male subordinates.”

Specifically, the complaint alleges, among other incidents, that Rebiesz told DeHooge he would advance more quickly if he “put on (his) kneepads” and asked the employee whether the beard he’d grown on his chin was a “dick target.”

Klimas alleged that Rebiesz gave him a bisexual-themed porn tape, asked him about masturbation habits, wanted to know if he ever “69ed another man” and gave him a cock ring.

Klimas filed a formal sexual harassment complaint within the company. The response was to require Klimas to confront his boss, a meeting at which Klimas suffered a mental breakdown and Rebiesz allegedly dismissed the allegations against him as “homophobic.”

Coates alleges that Rebiesz gave him a dildo-making kit, offered him $1,000 to strip at a private party, commented on his physique and inquired about his anatomical parts.

All three of the plaintiffs quit their jobs at the dealership.

Download a PDF of the current issue of Wisconsin Gazette and join our Facebook community.