Watching your family and friends excel in their professional and personal lives whilst seemingly stuck stationery in your own is a similarly terrifying and exhausting feeling, and it’s this specific concoction of existential dread that writer and director Morgan Ingari’s feature length debut, Milkwater hones in on. We are introduced to Milo (Molly Bernard), a single, twenty-something retail worker from New York at her best friend’s baby shower. Without even using any dialogue, both Ingari and Bernard expertly establish Milo’s feeling of exasperation and alienation, immediately creating a relatable energy for viewers who might feel the same bewilderment as those close to their own age embark on these huge life decisions, whilst they can’t even get a text back. However, Milo herself isn’t as far from this fate as she maybe expected, as when she ditches the baby shower for a nearby bar she meets Roger (Patrick Been), an older gay man who’s been trying to adopt a child, and she hastily decides to become a surrogate for him!
The film takes its name from a line in the poem “The Consecrating Mother” by Anne Sexton and it’s used in a scene where Milo and Roger read to the unborn child. In this moment it feels like both of these somewhat lost souls have found what they are looking for; Roger has recognised his dream of becoming a father and Milo has suddenly a great purpose in her life. However, this moment of content doesn’t last forever and the pair eventually realise that their own idea of what this surrogacy might look like could be quite different from the other.
Championing queer and non-traditional families, Ingari’s debut feature is a wonderful example of these individuals and couples who raise children in families that don’t fit any stereotypical view, but who very much exist. This is seen not only in the central plot that follows Milo and Roger’s surrogacy journey, but also in Milo’s newly pregnant friend Noor (Ava Eisenson) who is in a lesbian relationship. The queer representation doesn’t stop there though, as Robin de Jesús of The Boys in the Band fame portrays another of Milo’s friends, George. His friendship with Milo is explored throughout the film, as well as brief insights into his own relationships. Furthermore, Roger owns and performs at drag bar “Thigh High” which sports some well known talent in the form of Jiggly Caliente and Brita Filter, who fans of RuPaul’s Drag Race will immediately recognise as they slay the stage and mic.
So whilst all the fabulous queerness of the film will certainly catch your attention, the most captivating element to Milkwater is just how effortlessly natural it all feels. To have such a wealth of queer characters share the screen together and especially of so many different ages, genders and races is a testament to Ingari’s production. Milo is a wonderful focal point to connect all of these characters together and watching them share their life experiences with each other, without any storylines of coming out or homophobia, is a refreshing reminder that queer people exist beyond these limited narratives. Furthermore, having family at the centre of the story is an important aspect of queer life to showcase on screen, one that deserves a considerable amount more attention and thanks to films such as Alex Thompson’s Saint Frances, Eytan Fox’s Sublet and now Ingari’s Milkwater – it’s getting just that.
The cast as a whole are a delight, feeling authentic beyond doubt and creating such a believable group of friends with realistic dynamics. This strong ensemble performance really enhances the drama of the film. So whilst, at first Milkwater may seem quite simple and unaffecting, the power of these performances coupled with the writing, really begins to impact the viewing experience, delivering a humorous and emotional third act that allows the development of the first two to flourish. This is largely the case thanks to Bernard’s confident leading performance, conveying relatable emotion whilst also showcasing Milo’s unique and endearing personality in all its brilliant complexities. Her performance is then complimented further by the efforts of her co-stars who all contribute in ways that add to the narrative. Yes it’s a story about queer families, but it’s first a story about Milo, a single woman trying to navigate her life, but the cast and writing ensure that these two storylines can co-exist together in glorious harmony, never making it feel more about one than the other.
Therefore Milkwater’s touching story of a young woman feeling directionless is told with a blissful air of freedom, making it a real joy to watch. The cast bring to life Ingari’s thoughtful screenplay with such an ease which will make viewers feel like these characters are ones from a beloved sitcom that they’ve watched for years! The story touches on many aspects of family, friendship and relationships and its heavy queer focus throughout all of these is natural and approached with care and respect, allowing the whole production to be progressive without feeling forced. Ingari’s fantastic intentions of exploring complex woman and queer families are so realised here and Milkwater is the most recent example of having the right talent behind the camera for the story being told in front of it. So with such an incredibly assured debut, Morgan Ingari immediately becomes one of the most interesting new voices in filmmaking. Most will say she’s one to watch for the future, but with Milkwater she proves she’s very much here already, bang-on her due date!
MILKWATER will be available to rent and purchase digitally nationwide starting May 21, 2021.