“Milkwater” is an amiable comedy about what happens when Milo (Molly Bernard), a young woman in New York, becomes a surrogate for Roger (Patrick Breen), a 50-something gay man who has long wanted a child. (The film, made in 2020, is like a queer cousin to “Together Together,” another recent film about surrogacy between strangers).
Milo’s decision is seen as impulsive by her friends Noor (Ava Eisenson), a pregnant lesbian, and her gay roommate George (Robin de Jesús). But Milo cozies to the idea of carrying Roger’s baby because, she tells George, in the film’s most heartfelt moment, “It’s paralyzing to never feel pushed to do something terrifying and meaningful.”
Bernard, who plays Milo with the right mix of spunk and insecurity, is ingratiating as she makes a big, snap decision that she may not be equipped to handle. She wants to “feel intensely,” and to the film’s credit, Bernard’s performance makes viewers feel her shifting moods, too.
Yet as Milo embarks on this journey, writer/director Morgan Ingari asks viewers to support Milo when her behavior becomes increasingly more erratic. It is noble that she does not want compensation from Roger for carrying his child. But her claim that an occasional glass of wine is allowed while pregnant is, perhaps, questionable.
While Milo wants a relationship with Roger and the baby, he draws up a restrictive contract that makes her question their fast friendship. One minute they are having long talks backstage at his drag shows — Roger owns a gay bar and performs as “Angela Merkin” — and later they are reading Anne Sexton’s poetry to Milo’s baby bump. But when Roger wants to know the gender of the child and Milo doesn’t, a rift develops.
“Milkwater” nicely shows how Milo’s decision is her way of emulating her friends Noor and George, who have committed relationships. But the film also risks making Milo unlikable when she engages in some needy stalker behavior with Roger. He tries to establish boundaries, and she does not respect them.
Milo, however, also acts inappropriately towards Noor and George. When her friends call Milo’s attention to her bad behavior, or her questionable actions, she lashes out and alienates them. They say regrettable things, but these dramatic moments are poignant because they express what viewers also feel — that Milo needs to get out of her own way to move forward. (The film’s early dialogue is a bit forced, relying the typical quippery of many a gay-themed film.)
Equally upsetting is that not only does Milo jeopardize her best friendships, she also endangers her sweet romance with Cameron (Ade Otukoya), a semi-famous musician she starts dating after conceiving. While “Milkwater” does not fully explore the situation of a young woman falling in love while carrying another (albeit surrogate) baby, Cameron’s goodwill — and the viewer’s — is tested when Milo appears to have more interest in Roger than a relationship.
”Milkwater” may deliberately box its protagonist into a corner, but this strategy is both the film’s strength and its weakness. It is hard not to root for Milo even at her most self-destructive moments, but it is also easy to be exasperated by her. Bernard may make her loneliness palpable, but her inability to read other people is frustrating.
A small scene, set in the guitar shop where Milo works, makes this point clearly. As Cameron plays a tune, Milo chatters incessantly, which prompts her three coworkers (an amusing Greek chorus, though they are Australians) to tell her to shut up. Likewise, Milo cannot understand why Roger is ghosting her when she tries to meet him for drinks, and she even swings by his house to check up on him when he avoids her texts. It is hard to sympathize with Milo during these moments. It is worse when she attacks the people who love her the most.
“Milkwater,” however, is not always dour and does feature some touching moments, as when Roger recounts coming to New York from Iowa in the 1980s or explains to Milo that he wants to find his path as a parent on his own. He is also enjoyable performing in drag, lip-synching to Robyn’s “Dancing On My Own,” a not inappropriate anthem for either main character.
Ingari’s film may not give its other queer characters enough development — Robin de Jesus’s droll George and Ava Eisenson’s practical Noor are more symbols of sense and stability than fleshed out characters — but they serve their purpose as foils for Milo. In contrast, Ade Otukoya kind of gets the short shrift as Cameron, but his charm is infectious, especially during his first date with Milo.
“Milkwater” may require patience, but it is ultimately worthwhile.
Watch the trailer below:
MILKWATER | Directed by Morgan Ingari | Available for rental or purchase digitally via Apple TV, Amazon Prime Video, FandangoNOW, Google Play, VUDU and WolfeOnDemand starting May 21 | Distributed by Wolfe Releasing.
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