The thing about a vessel? They receive and take in everything. For New York City based Jess (Jasmine Batchelor), she’s self-described as such, being The Surrogate mother for her best friend, Josh (Chris Perfetti) and his husband, Aaron (Sullivan Jones). She wants to do this, and with a contract in hand drawn up with compassion and thoughtfulness, it is a perfect, non-hassle situation.
However, that changes when devastating news comes back after a routine prenatal test. It is news that gives pause to whether the baby should continue on as necessary or be one of many babies who never see the light of day. For all three, this is not what they envisioned, but an open mind Jess takes into the matter, finding that this situation she faces gives her life—predefined in a way she secretly abhors—real meaning. The pending decision will not be an easy one.
Watching The Surrogate brings a familiar vibe to another movie released earlier this year in The Assistant. Much like that one, The Surrogate is a non-flashy and heavy view. Not exactly the escapism people might want, especially now. Viewers, you have been warned.
The Surrogate is quite the endeavor for anyone to take on and take on with skill, even more so for a first-time feature length writer and director. But, that’s what Jeremy Hersh manages to do. He weaves many themes and hot button issues together, and coherently at that. Abortion, parenting, human rights, eugenics, race, and privilege are all addressed and linked into some way, shape, or form, and Hersh makes it clear that this decision at the center of the film isn’t one made in a vacuum affecting only three characters. Privilege is the theme that stands out the most, if only because it is not solely relegated to being white here like the word usually connotates.
It would have been extremely easy for Hersh to make The Surrogate preachy, with a clearly delineated right-and-wrong viewpoint. Thankfully, the writer/director is smart to know that taking a stance on this wouldn’t be realistic. As soon as the audience believes that one character’s thoughts on the matter are unassailable, they are shown to have skewed and/or substantially biased thinking…which is what all of us have. In other words, The Surrogate is a human story, recognizing humanity’s general desire to do the right thing(s) while balancing that with what the right things—or even the best things—might be for an individual. At the very least, the film simply poses an uncomfortable scenario that will make many watchers ask themselves about what they’d do. Rarely a bad thing.
Similar to The Assistant, Hersh eschews a score and opts to put minimal attention on the filmmaking aspect, leaving his cast to carry much of the responsibility. It’s dialogue-driven, arguably more so than Kitty Green’s movie which in spots had no problem using silence paired with Julia Garner’s facade to sell pathos. The Surrogate is raw and extremely explosive at times, particularly in the latter half where the situation is shown to forever change the relationship characters have with each other. The entire cast is steady, but the diminutive Batchelor stands above all, switching often between staunch detachment and impassioned investment. One of the better performances of the year that may go unnoticed purely due to lack of recognition.
An immediately hooking and fluid drama, The Surrogate strays far from giving an answer and finds a lot of power in such. Sometimes there is no best path forward, only rocky ones that’ll forever leave scar tissue.
Photo credits go to kickstarter.com, moveablefest.com, shockya.com, and metacritic.com.
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