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Milkwater ★★★



Director: Morgan Ingari

Cast: Molly Bernard, Ade Otukoya, Ava Eisenson, Patrick Breen, Robin de Jesus

Released: 21st May 2021

Outside of the frequented heteronormativity of romance and rom-com genres lies an entirely different, complex and diverse fluid landscape of gender, sexuality, romance and parenthood. After premiering at last year’s Brooklyn Film Festival, the LGBTQIA+ comedy-drama Milkwater has ascended to VOD for our viewing pleasure, with a refreshing look at surrogacy and affiliation between its participants.

Writer-director Morgan Inari’s feature debut explores the interesting dynamic between an elder gay man, Roger (Patrick Breen) and his female surrogate. This character takes shape in Milo (Molly Bernard), an eccentric and somewhat feverish young woman of the Zooey-Deschanel-type who feels stagnant against the invariable flow of Brooklyn life around her. After meeting Roger one night at a bar, timely after her best friend Noor’s (Ava Eisenson) baby shower, an intricate bond is unknowingly incited over a drunken conversation. In a moment of plain fragility, Roger admits he has lost several children to unstable adoptions in the past, which Milo appears to instantly connect with. Following this night, we then see Milo stood up by Noor, only to be saved by a notification reminding her of Roger’s drag show starting where he regularly performs under his stage name ‘Angela Merkin’. A budding friendship sits in the balance, and in a reckless moment, Milo offers up her womb for surrogacy. 

Whilst at first Milo’s decision-making seems hasty and nonsensical, Inari’s meticulous screenplay slowly articulates her protagonist as Milo reveals the past death of both of her parents. Nuancing on Milo’s depression and anxiety (which she casually refers back to), alongside Noor and roommate George (Robin de Jesus) getting into more severe entanglements, this translates her sudden pledge to become an egg donor. Navigating single life in the midst of new relationships and budding families is pressure enough, with orphan status leaving a double dearth of emotional fruition to be realised. The reiterated musical accompaniment to Roger’s drag shows, Robyn’s ‘Dancing on My Own’, perfectly encapsulates Milo’s frankly heartbreaking vulnerability. 

The film leaves limited space for the full exploration of pregnancy or the complete corporeal overhaul Milo has set up for herself, but focuses more on affections in a strange love triangle. The early agreement between Roger and Milo sees their friendship both begin and play out simultaneously to that of her romance with musician Cameron (Ade Utokoya), who she meets at her daytime guitar shop job. On the one hand, sexual innuendos, enjoyable hair-stroking, and overambitious texting with the former divulges Milo’s unfortunate attachment with her surrogay (if you will). Meanwhile, the more fitting love interest (Cameron) is victim to lacklustre scheduling, a lack of honesty around the pregnancy and significantly, an apprehensive Milo when stroking her hair. Ingari makes us question the legitimacy of the reach to simply act as an “aunt or nondenominational godparent” – as Roger slowly demands increased boundaries, we question where Milo fell into a more serious obsession.

With the cultural construct of the maternal pregnant woman in mind, the position of a surrogate is not only physically demanding but emotionally intricate in a number of ways. As these Juno-esque films demonstrate, the relationships between surrogate and legal parent, and attachment to the child in question can be uniquely delicate. As Noor warns of prohibitive language in Roger’s surrogacy contract, we cannot help but deliberate Milo’s future involvement with her only biological kin, as well as her new best friend/accidental beloved. Even in Milkwater’s light tone, Ingari capably induces a teary eye. 

Unfortunately, at times, the liberal-millennial-New-York character feels overdone. However, employing the same quirkiness of the Broad City Brooklynite lends Milo a particular unwavering fondness. What makes Milkwater beam is its brilliantly detailed screenplay and building narrative that is executed with a sweet and gratifying end scene. The availability for LGBTQIA+ expression and rights on screen, alongside a welcoming female lead and voice behind the screen, enables the pleasant exploration of a number of sex-related issues. Specifically, shining a light on same-sex couples at different stages of new parenthood sets this perky feature apart from the rest.

Milkwater feels easy to watch – it explores a tricky negotiation in a lighthearted and humorous fashion. The studied quips of the waking-up-with-dildo-in-hand and the jolly polaroid montage documenting the pregnancy places it alongside predecessors in the indie-comedy genre, making a complex adoption situation potentially more accessible. At times hilarious, then saddening, but mostly uplifting – Milkwater is a brilliant debut film from rising director Morgan Ingari.

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