Review: Deeply layered 'The Surrogate' tackles complex issues with sincerity
Courtesy of Monumental Releasing
An emotional powerhouse in every sense of the word, Jeremy Hersh’s gripping drama “The Surrogate” tackles a wide array of complex and ethical dilemmas, some harder to stomach than others and in the process, it never loses sight of its focus and gets melodramatic. Excellent performances by this incredible cast puts the audience in the middle of a devastating quarrel where no decision ever feels like the right one.
Jess (an incredibly vibrant Jasmine Batchelor) is in a bit of a rut. She’s got her master’s degree and works for a posh non-profit organization providing support for incarcerated women. But Jess’s ideas are often overlooked and pushed aside. There is a guy that she likes, though the commitment is something hard to swallow, yet when she gets the little plus sign from a pregnancy test, she’s joyous.
The baby doesn’t belong to her, rather she’s agreed to be the vessel for her two best friends, a gay male couple, Josh (Chris Perfetti) and Aaron (Sullivan Jones). Considering it’s illegal to pay someone for surrogacy in the state of New Jersey, the baby technically belongs to Jess, but that’s never explicitly laid out in the contract she signed. Why is she practically doing this for free? Because she loves her friends and believes they deserve a shot at raising a child.
Aaron – being a lawyer for a prestigious law firm – has outlined most details: they’ll pay for all medical expenses and Jess will fork over parental rights. But the group hits a roadblock when prenatal testing reveals an extra chromosome, Down syndrome, and suddenly everyone’s worlds are turned upside down. For once, Jess has a purpose not seen in her romantic or professional life and begins looking up community resources on Down syndrome, attends programs where she gets to ask questions, engage with teachers, and connect with children.
On the other hand, Josh and Aaron are blindsided and can’t see a scenario where having a child with Down’s is right for them, and – despite Jess offering the right reading material and financial backing – they ask her to get an abortion.
It’s obvious in these dramatic sequences how the cast has theatre experience, because their ability to make conversing in a room this engaging is a rare feat. Which is important because most of the screenplay is dialogue heavy, and asks these actors to shoulder the narrative and to discuss very serious and complex issues around race, gender, eugenics, disabilities without compromising the flow and rhythm of the picture.
Thankfully, Hersh knows how to stage a scene and plant the camera in a way that allows his actors to control the room. He also unspools the informational in a delicate way that isn’t insulting to the material. A medical professional delivers the somber news about the chromosome test and then offers solutions, referring them to someone who can assist with their needs. Later, when Aaron and Josh discuss ending the pregnancy, their rationale comes from the financial strain of raising a child with special needs rather than see their own inabilities to love this kid unconditionally.
Each of these characters are passionate about the subject and it's what fuels the debate about whether to keep the child. We sympathize with them because it’s practically unimaginable to see ourselves in a similar situation, and for most parents – if they admit it or not – would probably choose to have a “normal” child if given the option. Then of course abortion has always been a controversial topic that’s been dissected for decades. But the way Hersh handles the intricacies of these characters and their unfortunate circumstances promotes a healthy dialogue around the subject.
In reality, “The Surrogate” presents the ultimate “What Would You Do?” scenario. Now I can’t say I walked out of this movie with a clear understanding of how I would react in such trying times, but one can appreciate how the film stokes our emotions with real problems and doesn’t force us to have all the answers.
THE SURROGATE is currently available from various on demand and virtual cinema platforms.