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Jess Harris is a young woman with a lot on her plate. She cannot seem to please her boss and her boyfriend wants more out of their relationship than she is willing to provide. There is one bright side. After agreeing to be the surrogate and egg donor for her best friend Josh and his husband Aaron, she has successfully become pregnant. Jess is happy to do this for her friends. However, a prenatal test shows the fetus has tested positive for Down Syndrome. Jeremy Hersh’s film The Surrogate asks some difficult questions and poses a moral dilemma not frequently explored in films.
Written and directed by Hersh, dialogue is a key in this film. While we see the friendship between Jess and Josh, it is Jess’s dialogue with everyone around her that reveals more about who she is and how she identifies in the world. Jess, played by Jasmine Batchelor, asks a lot of questions and she expects answers, but one thing the film stresses is that sometimes there are no right answers. Jess seems to take an academic approach to the situation.
Jess befriends Bridgette (Brooke Bloom), the mother of a special needs child, hoping to learn from her lifestyle. Jess is not a perfect character; she is flawed and does not recognize the boundaries of others. There is an uncomfortable realism in the scenes between Jess and Bridgette. Jess interrogates Bridgette, makes assumptions, and imposes herself on her time. Meanwhile Bridgette is friendly and polite as she tries to answer her. Batchelor and Bloom are great actresses and the interaction in their scenes is very natural and intense. While Bridgette is annoyed, she understands Jess’s questions come from a place of earnest curiosity and both actresses convey their character’s frustration brilliantly.
Many themes are encountered in this film: free will, life and death, and sacrifice. The film takes a look at a very controversial topic and all arguments are passionately presented. In a director’s statement, Hersh states, “the characters have to confront the gap between ideals and practical realities.” The Surrogate looks at how people rationalize and reason and shows how a person might be shaped by their decisions.