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Reel Love Fest: ‘Milkwater’ balances light comedy and emotional depth

A tender exploration of friendship and personal growth.

Milo and Roger touch each others lips.
(Image: © Reel Love Film Festival)

Our Verdict

Milkwater is a heartfelt character study that explores parenthood, mental health, queerness and friendship with charming ease.

For

  • 🍼 Empathetic character study.
  • 🍼 Heartfelt story.
  • 🍼 Easy chemistry between the characters.

Against

  • 🍼 The many charming side-characters don’t get enough time on screen.
  • 🍼 Moves very quickly through time, robbing us of key emotional moments.

Milkwater starts as all great love stories do: two strangers alone in a bar exchange quick banter and instantly form a connection that will last a lifetime. But this simple beginning is only momentary — the more we learn about these characters, the more complicated the narrative becomes. Writer/director Morgan Ingari’s feature debut is interested in exposing complexity and does so with a charming ease. Somehow balancing a light comedic energy with aching emotional depth, Ingari’s story delves into questions of parenthood, friendship, queerness, mental health and womanhood.

When we first meet protagonist Milo (Molly Bernard) she is surrounded by friends but stands distinctly apart from them. Though she bounces easily off their humor and shares their inside jokes, she has a tendency to clash in conversation, poking fun at the details of their “adult” lives. Drifting in both her personal and professional life, Milo seems to have trouble sharing in her friend’s successes. After igniting some tensions at her best friends baby shower, Milo flees to bar where she finds herself alone with Roger (Patrick Breen), a gay man in his 50s. They connect immediately, his wit complementing her cynicism, and Milo later muses that fate brought them together. 

While this has all the trappings of a love story, complete with a meet-cute that lasts all night, it quickly becomes much more complicated. In the chaos of the night, Roger reveals that he has been trying for years to adopt a child — and his story makes a lasting impression on Milo... So much so that just a few days later, she announces her intention to be his surrogate and egg donor so he can finally have a child. Milo’s decision is made rashly but, in the joy of the moment, neither the audience nor Roger spend much time questioning her. The film reveals her to us over time and much like Roger, we see the good before learning of the complexity beneath the surface. Later in the film, someone will candidly ask her, “why did you decide to do this?” This is the ever looming question. The more we learn about Milo, the more we piece together her personality, her flaws and the problematic nature of her decision. 

Milkwater is a concentrated, empathetic character study, centering on Milo as she comes to terms with who she wants to be. In a way, the film's events are the climax of the larger story of her life. As a fragment of a larger whole, much is left out of the film's narrative. Though Milo makes for an excellent character study, the film's ensemble includes many characters that exist only in the periphery despite having their own interesting offscreen developments. The relationships Milo has with her best friend Noor (Ava Eisenson) and roommate George (Robin de Jesús) are crucial to her growth but this is only briefly mentioned, leaving much unsaid. In that same vein, the film moves quickly through time, leaving us to long for the day-to-day moments that would reveal more about her relationships and life outside of Roger.

Of course, any and all time with Bernard and Breen onscreen is well-deserved. They are endlessly charming as Milo and Roger, with undeniable chemistry. Although the film begins in a joyous place and grows complex as their relationship becomes strained, Ingari masterfully weaves in the complications. (As with many relationship dramas, miscommunication and lack of communication sow the seeds of their relationship’s descent.) Even in their darker moments, Bernard and Breen evoke empathy that Ingari’s filmmaking only enhances.

Ingari’s debut proves her ability to tap into humor and humanity, telling a heartfelt story about the messy nature of friendship. Somewhere in the middle of the spur-of-the-moment surrogacy, Milo finds herself resting her head in Roger’s lap, listening to the Anne Sexton poem that gives the film its name (“The Consecrating Mother”). They end the poem by speaking the words together, to the baby, to themselves and to each other. The camera hovering over them feels an invasion of their privacy, for a moment so tender and revealing. This is Milkwater at its best: emotional, real and wonderfully human.