Arts Editor Rita Bratovich reviews Milkwater, a highlight of the Mardi Gras Film Festival, which is being presented by the Sydney Sentinel.
Writer and director Morgan Ingari first conceived the idea for the film that eventually became Milkwater when she was in college. A friend jokingly suggested surrogacy might be a good way to make some money. It was years later before Ingari consolidated an accumulation of thoughts, research and discussion about surrogacy into a script; years that included a shift to a queer perspective.
Milkwater is set in New York City and centres around a tight group of friends in their late twenties. Milo (Molly Bernard), the main protagonist, is straight, single and disenchanted with her life. Her best friend since high school, Noor (Ada Eisenson) is a lesbian, happily married to KJ (Jess Stark), and pregnant with their first baby. Milo’s roommate, George (Robin de Jesus) is handsome, gay, single and dependably available until he meets Teddy (Michael J Berry) and they become an item, leaving Milo to circle in orbit around her friends without a purpose of her own.
One night in a bar, after George hastily deserts her for a hook-up, Milo befriends Roger (Patrick Breen), a 52-year-old gay man who has just been cyber stood-up. They play pool, get drunk and talk about their respective lives and ambitions, and his long held and frustrated desire to have a child.
This plants a seed in Milo’s mind that eventually leads to his seed being planted in her womb.
It all happens very hastily, and it isn’t long into the first trimester before both Milo and Roger begin to realise they should probably have discussed it a bit more – while sober.
Clearly, they are emotionally on different planes: Roger sees the whole affair as transactional, while Milo sees it as a way of finding a deep, purposeful connection.
To further complicate things, handsome, talented musician Cameron (Ade Otukoya) walks into the music store where Milo works, sparks fly and they start dating. When she, at an intimate moment, reveals to Cameron the little secret she is literally keeping inside, it ends up being something of a mood-killer.
Milo becomes confused and angry, feeling even more disconnected than before. She lashes out, says some horrible things, it gets very tense and then … sorry, no spoilers.
Although Milkwater deals with weighty subject matter, the film never becomes too heavy. It’s a comfortable watch with enough light and shade to give the plot a satisfying arc. The script is filled with snappy, sassy banter and stone-dry humour. The characters are nicely fleshed out and authentic.
Molly Bernard is forceful in the lead role, bringing vulnerability and intensity to Milo. She is often not very likeable which actually makes her very real.
Patrick Breen’s Roger is a grounded, resolute foil to Milo. Breen has a lovely screen presence and provides some of the movie’s highlights when he performs as his drag alter-ego, Angela Merkin.
One of the best if rather understated comic elements of the film involves the music store where Milo works. Called String Theory, it is owned by three Aussie guys (Alexander Hodge, Sean Rogers and Nicholas Hiatt) whose interaction and comic timing surely will earn them their own sitcom.
The film’s title comes from a line in The Consecrating Mother, a poem by the controversial mid-20th Century American poet, Anne Sexton. Sexton had a troubled life, harried by scandal and personal demons. The Consecrating Mother is enigmatic and edgy – an odd choice for a poem which Roger decides he would like to read to the baby while its in the womb:
And in moonlight she comes in her nudity,
Flashing breasts made of milk-water,
Flashing buttocks made of unkillable lust,
And at night when you enter her
You shine like a neon soprano.
Its inclusion is one of those interesting details that adds to the scope of a film, giving you just that little bit more to walk away and think about.
The Sydney Sentinel will be presenting the Australian premiere of Milkwater at 7pm Sunday, 21 February at Event Cinemas George Street, 505–525 George Street, Sydney. Tickets ($21 full, $18.50 concession, $17.50 members) available from queerscreen.org.au. Milkwater is also available online on demand.