False Positive, 2021.
Directed by John Lee.
Starring Ilana Glazer, Justin Theroux, Pierce Brosnan, Zainab Jah, Gretchen Mol, Sophia Bush, Josh Hamilton, Kelly AuCoin, Lucy Walters, Sabina Gadecki, Francesca Faridany, Taylor Ortega, S.J. Son, Sullivan Jones, and Nils Lawton.
As if getting pregnant weren’t complicated enough, Lucy sets out to uncover the unsettling truth about her fertility doctor.
Ilana Glazer’s Lucy knows that her partner Adrian (Justin Theroux) has tinkered with her pregnancy in some way. The question is how and why, which director John Lee (also writing the script alongside star Ilana Glazer) succeeds in the early going of building a compelling mystery around. The culprits are obvious, but it’s clear that the revelation of what they have to gain will make or break False Positive.
Lucy and Adrian have been trying to conceive a baby for quite some time now and repeatedly failing. They decide to see renowned fertility doctor John Hindle (an ominously creepy Pierce Brosnan), a former medical teacher of Adrian willing to bypass them over a high-demand waitlist and who has the scientific answers to why Lucy can’t get pregnant. After boosting certain body levels, Lucy is inseminated with Adrian’s sperm, and to the couple’s happiness, she is now with child. The caveat is that Lucy happens to be carrying three babies, a pair of boy twins, and the daughter she has always wanted to complete her picture-perfect family. Fearing that this will be an unexpected complication, Lucy is advised to undergo a selective production procedure, aborting one of them.
This is where Lucy and Adrian have their first actual argument, with the former wanting to keep the girl and the latter more interested in having boys for selfish reasons than anything. It’s clear that Adrian is a manipulator and somewhat terrible person begging the question of why these two are together in the first place. And if you want to chalk it up as a healthy, passionate argument between lovers, well, it’s not the only time he is emotionally overpowering. Even the nurses at the facility have an overwhelming kindness to them that goes beyond hospitable into suspicions of ulterior motives.
Soon after the procedure, Lucy begins bleeding from her uterus, experiencing hallucinations, and comes down with a forgetful memory that John insists is a condition called “baby brain.” Its true purpose is to create a cheap way for the filmmakers to mess with viewers’ minds about what is really going on. Some of the sequences are visually arresting (there’s a scene where Lucy is taking a bath and is then submerged underneath bloody water). Others are straight-up extreme misdirections that seemingly don’t add much to the story.
Conveniently, Lucy doesn’t really have anyone to talk to about what she is experiencing. Her mother passed away a few years ago; she and Adrian don’t seem to have many or enjoy the company of their friends, leaving her only source of communication as a small group of mothers-to-be. There’s also a magazine cover of John featuring an article about a spiritual midwife (Zainab Jah) encouraging women to get in touch with their female bodies rather than pump themselves full of injection and medications, as John enforces. That’s also an intriguing juxtaposition to make, except False Positive doesn’t necessarily make three one examining that contrast.
That’s partly because False Positive also wants to be a social commentary on how pregnancy alters what co-workers think of women on the job (Lucy works for a marketing firm where her partners are either giving her pickup orders for lunch or misguidedly enthusiastically talking about how they can also climb up the ladder at the expense of her pregnancy). Somewhere between that and wanting to be a psychological descent into madness, the reasons for essentially traumatizing Lucy come down to a tirade about large-scale issues in the world that come across as one final nail in the coffin that the script has no idea what it wants to say.
Take nothing away from Ilana Glazer, who does her best tapping into the vulnerabilities of pregnancy and the horror of the situation she finds herself in. The film itself contains a slimy mood, effectively building suspense while presenting twisted questions to ponder. False Positive takes all that goodwill and turns negative real fast. However, it does end on a beautifully disturbing image suggesting a good movie somewhere in the script that didn’t translate to the screen.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com