Entertainment » Movies

Review: 'Milkwater' a Captivating Character Study

by Kilian Melloy
Monday Jun 21, 2021

Morgan Ingari's "Milkwater" is a stirring, and funny, character study of a young woman caught in one of life's dead zones, where she's not making progress — and not even sure she's feeling a need to.

It's that very ambivalence that alarms Milo (Molly Bernard) and causes her to rush headlong into a life-altering decision that starts out as a joke shared with a stranger at a bar. Against all sense and reason — but to her own great excitement — Milo agrees to be a surrogate for a middle-aged single gay man.

It sounds completely implausible — and it is — but the difference between a "likely impossibility" and an "unlikely possibility" (as Aristotle called them in the "Poetics") is partly a matter of how well a story is executed. To this end, Ingari spends some time setting things up so that we understand a little of who Milo is and where she's at in her life: We meet her at a baby shower for her lifelong friend Noor (Ava Eisenson), a married lesbian. The weightlessness of the conversations around her become unbearable, so Milo, together with her gay roommate, George (Robin de Jesus), leaves early. Together, Milo and George head to a bar for a few rounds of pool — only for George to cut out on Milo abruptly when a Tinder date, Teddy (Michael J. Berry), suddenly wants to get together.

That's when Milo and Roger (Patrick Breen) meet and start swapping one-liners. Taking a liking to each other, they hang out, play darts, get drunk, and broach the subject of surrogacy. Roger, still single at 53, has made several attempts to become a father, through adoption and surrogacy, but nothing has panned out. He's just about given up, deciding that it's his fate to remain alone for his whole life.

Struck by Roger's loneliness — and feeling a little alone and adrift herself, compared to the way her friends' lives are unfolding — Milo finds the idea of being a surrogate growing on her, so she seeks Roger out to have a more serious discussion about it. Impulsively — with the rashness of the decision being part of the point — they decide to move forward with the half-baked plan.

That, of course, is when things get complicated, but not entirely for the reasons you would expect. There is, of course, the occasional wrinkle — and some fairly steep divides — to be overcome as Roger and Milo start to get to know each other better, but there's also the issue of how Noor and her wife KJ (Jess Stark), busy with impending motherhood, slowly become less a part of Milo's world. George, smitten with Teddy, has his own life to tend to. But the biggest wrench in the works presents itself in the form of Cameron (Ade Otukoya), a customer at the musical instruments shop where Milo works. He's charming, he's straight, and he likes Milo; she, in turn, likes him.

But Milo's connection with Roger has taken on outsized life - especially when Milo learns that their (nonsexual and decidedly low-tech) attempt to get her pregnant has actually worked. That relationship, however, is partly rooted in wishful thinking, whereas the romance with Cameron is considerably more substantial; but there's trouble in paradise from the very start, as Cameron, not that thrilled that Milo's carrying another man's child to begin with, becomes less and less patient with having to compete with Roger for Milo's time and emotional energy.

The film's greatest accomplishment is showing how Milo, in her eagerness and self-absorption, manages to bungle every relationship in her life. It's a master class in how to lose friends and alienate people, and it's simultaneously hilarious and heart-wrenching. This is a remarkable achievement on Bernard's part, too, since throughout all of it she manages to keep Milo sympathetic even as she's showing just what a self-centered emotional disaster area she is. (In this way, Milo is a direct cinematic descendant of that other New Yorker with an intensely dysfunctional, yet compelling, personal life, Carrie Bradshaw.)

The film stays true to its characters at every juncture - another choice that helps sell the wildly unlikely story — and, in doing so, allows "Milkwater" to gain poignancy and emotional force. It's one of the most likable movies about a semi-unlikable person to come along lately, and if the gay angles feel almost incidental, then good: That's another way in which this film feels more true to life than not.

"Milkwater" streams at Frameline June 27

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

Frameline 2021

This story is part of our special report titled "Frameline 2021." Want to read more? Here's the full list.

Comments on Facebook