Milkwater ★★★

Part of the joy of wading through “Milkwater” is trying to achieve a true understanding of its protagonist. Milo (Molly Bernard) decides to be a surrogate for a gay man she meets in a bar. Not because she is kind or that she wishes to create something bigger than herself. Rather, the decision, I think, is born out of deep loneliness. Milo, now in her early thirties, is still single and has never been in a serious relationship while her friends, Noor (Ava Eisenson) and George (Robin de Jesús), are either starting a family or beginning to move past the one night stand lifestyle.

Milo is a woman stranded, equally afraid of being alone and being left alone. Writer-director Morgan Ingari attempts to dissect the difference. When it is successful, the indie comedy-drama is captivating, focused, pregnant with nuance, irony, and bittersweet emotions. But when it stumbles, the work is dull, predictable, a minefield of cliché. I’m not sure which is worse: sitting through yet another scene in which our heroine is required to alienate everyone in her circle or she coming to the realization that she has been selfish and must win them back.

The core of the material is the complicated relationship between Milo and Roger (Patrick Been), a fifty-two-year-old single gay man who tried to have a child three times prior: twice though adoption and once via surrogacy. Bernard and Breen evoke a warm chemistry together even though their characters have an age difference of twenty years. Remove the pregnancy angle and a potentially curious friendship remains. But a schism: Milo wants a friend more than a baby, Roger wants a baby more than friend. While understandable that we spend ample time with Milo, who is immature in a lot of ways, at times the story begs for Roger’s more mature perspective. The imbalance is quite off-putting at times.

What does Roger really think about the aimless young woman who keeps ending up on his front door? Why does he wish to have a child so badly? Like Milo, is he afraid of being alone, too? As a man in his fifties, does he truly believe he can raise a child and provide it the experiences it deserves as a new parent could in their twenties or thirties? These are only a few questions worth answering. Instead, we spend another night with Milo as she regards her partnered friends with envy… in slow motion. It gets exhausting after a while—a shame because it is apparent there is a tender, somewhat melancholy story worth telling here.

Why is it that so many humble comedy-dramas end up in the pitfall of forced humor, particularly when it comes to the subject having quirky friends? “Milkwater” is a story that needed to be told straight, zero subplot, a clear examination of two souls, born two decades apart, finding one another, touching, and learning that perhaps their destinies run in opposite directions. Poetry can be had in simply allowing the laughter and the tears to be rather than to have them confront those looking in. Such an approach can tip the balance between cinema and sitcom.

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