Movie Review: Debating pregnancy, Down Syndrome and abortion with “The Surrogate”

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Smart, educated and liberal New Yorkers debate morality “The Surrogate,” an indie drama that is almost all talk, and all of it good.

Jasmine Batchelor has the vibrant, idealistic and opinionated title role. Jess is an upper middle class 20something of independent means and independent thought, and a Columbia alumnus who just might correct your grammar if you dared call her “woke.”

Born into the upper middle class, a yoga-loving web designer and marketer for a non-profit, she is Buppy to her marrow.

“You’re describing every chick in Brooklyn.”

She is still keeping her life options open. She’s just shifted her boyfriend to “just friends” when we meet her. Doesn’t need the commitment.

Yet she’s agreed to be a surrogate for a gay couple, Josh (Chris Perfetti), whom she met when they were undergrads at Sarah Lawrence, and Aaron (Sullivan Jones). She’s not doing it for money. She supports their love and their commitment. It’s kind of an altruistic political statement, for her.

“They’re the new parents,” she over-shares with a waitress. “I’m just the…vessel!”

And then they get the prenatal test. She fetus has the extra chromosome that indicates Down Syndrome. Writer-director Jeremy Hersh’s movie is about the widening circle of debate about what they will decide to do about this.

That agonizing discussion is fascinating because of the pitfalls the movie avoids and what becomes obvious as Jess’s Achilles Heel. She is open and friendly, intelligent and curious. So she “works the problem” by finding a community center where Down Syndrome children can play together and parents can bond.

She immerses herself in that world and insistently ingratiates herself with one parent, Bridget (Brooke Bloom) and her adorable son, Leon (Leon Addison Brown).

What’s more, she insists Aaron and Josh come along for these info-gathering, get acquainted with the available support system sessions.

“It would be great if we could hang out with Leon’s family…”

Jess does all this without noticing the looks the gay couple exchanged, the way the diagnosis devastates Josh, who knew a Down child growing up. She doesn’t pick up on “Having a kid with Down Syndrome…it requires a lot.”

She peppers Bridget with questions without seeing the exhaustion in her eyes, without hearing how difficult it is, even for people of means, to take on this responsibility.

Maybe she’s disconnected, not facing the fact that sure, she can afford to be all-in. She won’t have to raise the baby, toddler, tween, teen and adult who will be dependent on her parents or others her entire life.

So the news that the couple have discussed all the options and decided on terminating the pregnancy might come as a shock, although outwardly, she seems fine with that.

It’s just that she insists on deepening her ties to the community center, to Bridget and Leon. Is she “working” Josh and Aaron?

Hersh gives every single character in this a defensible point of view and lets each make his or her case. Parents get involved. Siblings.

His attention to milieu all but mocks affluent Manhattan liberalism, people wanting to make moral yet political decisions but petty enough to have bones to pick with that precious TV cook, “The Barefoot Contessa,” Ina Garten, with and evolutionary biologist, ethologist and atheist Richard Dawkins.

“He’s ALT right!”

No, he isn’t.

The tone ranges from testy to distraught, but always “adult” in the insistence on talking this out.

It can seem too talkative, at times. But Hersh never lets us or anybody else off the hook. This is a very real situation and an incredibly difficult decision if you take all the financial, physical, spiritual and ethical aspects.

And Batchelor makes us see, appreciate and feel every step in Jess’s deliberations, from reasoning and bargaining to defensive and shrill. It’s a marvelous turn in a very smart movie, and we can only hope there are roles just as challenging residing in her bright and bright-eyed future.

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MPAA Rating: unrated, profanity

Cast: Jasmine Batchelor, Chris Perfetti, Sullivan Jones, Brooke Bloom

Credits: Written and directed by Jeremy Hersh.  A Monument release.

Running time: 1:33

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