2021 | rated R | starring Illana Glazer, Pierce Brosnan, Justin Theroux, Gretchen Mol, Sophia Bush | directed by John Lee | 1 hr 32 mins |
When Illana Glazer walked away from Broad City to produce movies, the last thing I expected Glazer to come up with right out of the gate was a pregnancy anxiety thriller. That’s False Positive, Rosemary’s Baby updated for IVF technology with the same upper west side New York setting just daring us to make the comparisons.
Lucy (Illana Glazer) and Adrian (Justin Theroux) have been trying to get pregnant for the last two years, until Adrian pulls some strings with an old college professor and gets them an appointment with prestegious fertility doctor Hindle (Pierce Brosnan). The resulting procedure gifts Lucy with triplets, two boys and a girl, and the choice to make a Selective Reduction to save the pregnancy. Soon Lucy starts suspecting things aren’t what they seem with the pregnancy or Dr. Hindle.
Collaborating with co-writer director John Lee, Glazer has things to say about the way people write off the concerns of a pregnant woman as “Mommy Brain”. The problem is there is no film language here. Glazer and Lee dream up some fine delusions here, throwing us off balance a few times with cutting around Lucy in different places and times. But it’s all off. Lee can’t decide if he wants to make a Descent into Madness movie or a Conspiracy Thriller. False Positive gets adequately discombobulating, but the two halves work against each other with the delusions a bit too real and the actual reveals edited to the point of surreal. If that was the point, to put us in Lucy’s headspace, that contradicts the film’s ethos that the men around Lucy (and at one point it asserts, the men around all pregnant women) are gaslighting her.
False Positive begins way too family-oriented to be believed. With the involvement of creatives like Glazer and Sophia Bush – two of the most gung-ho abortiony abortion fans that ever abortioned – a movie about pregnancy just has to be a ruse that drags us along until the other shoe drops. It clocks away the running time building up the question of what Dr. Hindle could be doing to these babies – and what in the world Lucy’s husband has to do with it? And what does Hindle’s overly protective nurse (Gretchen Mol) has to do with it? Lucy is obviously suspicious of them because everyone in this movie acts suspiciously. In a performance pitched to the cheap seats that would make a Lifetime movie casting director cringe, Justin Theroux spends the entire film skulking around taking the side of, hugging and being overly concerned for the feelings of Dr. Hindle over his own pregnant wife.
The film’s attempts to construct a paranoid atmosphere around our lead are laughable, with Hindle and Adrian conspiring in hushed tones just outside of Lucy’s earshot. Lee and Glazer’s script is completely unable to stop itself from telegraphing it’s own twists way ahead of time. It has such a big mallet approach to characterizations that every attempt to slightly tip it’s hand ends up accidently revealing all the cards. This is a clumsy movie. One that looses track of it’s goals and can’t generate anxiety out of an inherently vulnerable situation.
I won’t lie, I did take a pause when it started to backtrack through the history of childbirth, proposing an actual idea. That the modern way we view and treat childbirth from doctors in hospitals is a patriarchal construct to rob women of their inherent power to endure pain and give life. Problem is, the movie doesn’t expound on this and where it actually goes has nothing to do with men, women, patriarchy, medicine or anything larger then this one freakish incident.
The finale False winds it’s way towards is totally crazy, a term I usually use for endearment. In this case, the movie is such an unfocused mess, grasping at random ideas to pay off Lucy’s paranoia. The climax involes Lucy solving her problems by beating everyone bloody, Brosnan getting humiliated (this guy was James Bond…) and a gag reflex joke (the only joke in the movie), all intercut with the bloody aftermath. It’s a tonal nightmare.
Admittedly, any pregnancy anxiety movie that ends in nothing short of the birth of the antichrist is going to appear anticlimactic. This movie starts out on the right track, bringing it into the world of fertility medicine, but Lee and Glazer can’t nail down what they want to say, who they want to blame and what they want us to fear. If it knew what it wanted to say, it is so inept with the language of film, tone, pacing and editing to convey it anyway. I will still follow whatever Illana Glazer does next, but this team has a long way to go before bringing what we see in False Positive up to film competence.