directed by Morgan Ingari
starring Molly Bernard, Michael Judson Berry, Patrick Breen)
Featuring a superb lead performance from Molly Bernard (Younger), Milkwater is a sharp and stylish comedy concerning motherhood, belonging and alternative family units with all of the beauty and vulnerability that non-conformism entails.
Milo (Bernard), is in her late twenties and seemingly increasingly adrift from her friends who are settling down around her. At a baby shower, Milo bristles with resentment as her previous importance in her best friend’s life is increasingly overshadowed by the incoming baby and an overbearing wife. Seeking solace at a neighbourhood bar, Milo is in turn abandoned by her flatmate who is more interested in chasing down Tinder dates than commiserating with her. Enter Roger, a middle-aged drag queen with a dream of having a child. They open up to each other with an intimacy and honesty borne from the safety of imagining they’ll never see each other again.
Maybe Milo’s offer to become a surrogate for a man she barely knows might come across as a little hasty but there is enough shading in her very well-drawn character, particularly in her own tragic family history, for it to seem truthful. Much as Milo’s whip-smart wisecracks act as her first line of defense to protect her brittle shell, her impulsiveness reveals her vulnerability and insecurity with her own place in the world.
Beyond the physical practicalities of the arrangement, the couple’s emotional expectations are very different. For Roger it's simply a transaction. He’s pragmatic. He wants to be fair. He draws up a contract and urges Milo to sign it but as the labour progresses she seems to need more. She references her body. The physicality of the changes inside her. The thing that grows. She becomes more demanding. Perhaps some kind of stalker. And when the film could’ve slipped into psychological horror or a guilt/envy thriller it takes a step back. It’s not that kind of movie. What it does is less dramatic and much more subtle.
Bernard’s turn as Milo is brilliantly modulated. Her character is frequently infuriating, often unlikeable but ultimately sympathetic. Like that friend you had that drove you crazy but for whom you only ever wanted the best. Taking its title from a line in Anne Sexton’s posthumous poem “The Consecrating Mother” - read at length in one scene in all it’s roiling, confounding, visionary splendour – Milkwater has interesting things to say about motherhood, femininity, and notions of the family. That it eschews the didactic in favour of ambiguity and contradiction elevates it above the soap-operatics and rote rom-com beats that have scuppered similarly themed movies. There’s an intelligence on display in all aspects of the film-making that allows the audience to navigate its own way through the narrative with signposts kept to a minimum and editorial interference on character arcs held in check. An impressive debut feature.
Main Image: Molly Bernard as Milo
Milkwater is available to buy or rent on numerous digital platforms from May 21.