Updated: Jul 13, 2021
False Positive (streaming on Hulu) is a psychological thriller with a lot on its mind. It has much to say about the pregnancy industry, sexism in the workplace, casual racism and the way pregnant women are condescended to. Eventually, cowriter/producer/star Ilana Glazer and cowriter/producer/director John Lee bite off more than they can chew. Not all of this material feels fully developed and the ending goes a little too far over the top. Even though it doesn’t ultimately work, this is an entertaining and suspenseful movie, with effective performances and an intriguing take on its subject matter.
Lucia (or Lucy) and Adrian have been trying to have a baby for some time. In desperation, they go to his mentor, Dr. Hindle, a highly renowned expert in fertility. Soon, Lucy is pregnant, but she quickly begins to suspect that her doctor is up to something sinister. And her husband is in on it. Is she paranoid? Or are terrible things being done to her?
False Positive owes a lot to Rosemary’s Baby in terms of its creepy imagery and hints of a dark conspiracy involving a woman’s pregnancy. Cold interiors, dark reds, vivid hallucinations (or are they?), coolly cheerful conversations, ominous music on the soundtrack, etc. Glazer, so funny on Broad City, plays it straight here, showing she is skilled at more than comedy. There are a few dark laughs, coming from the way the screenplay attacks its many targets. Glazer’s Lucy has to be the center, taking the audience through these disturbing events with a slowly escalating panic. She is good in the moments where she thinks she may be able to have it all (a flourishing career, a loving husband and a child) and the ones where that idea begins to crumble.
She has some nice, believable scenes with Justin Theroux, as Adrian, where you can see their bond even as he seems slightly detached. Or is that just her paranoia? Theroux is successful at seeming caring and up to something at the same time.
Pierce Brosnan brings his considerable presence to Dr. Hindle. He is warm, pleasant, and supportive, but there is a calculated calmness that is strangely off-putting. The other major role goes to Gretchen Mol as a nurse who is very devoted to Dr. Hindle. Her joyless smile and robotic reassurances are a highlight of the movie.
However, False Positive is not just a thriller. It is also a satire. It goes after gender stereotypes: Lucy is very good at her job at an advertising agency, yet why does her friendly boss always ask her to take the lunch order, instead of one of her male colleagues? It goes after the way people treat pregnant women: Adrian repeatedly says, “we are pregnant (taking her experience for his own),” she is told multiple times she is glowing and the obnoxious phrase “mommy brain” is used to explain away her suspicions. The stuff about the black midwife Lucy sees as exotic and magical doesn’t land so well. It is an interesting commentary that gets lost amid everything else going on. The payoff for it is handled unconvincingly.
False Positive hits on about 60% of what it attempts. The gender/pregnancy satire mostly connects. The thriller part succeeds during the setup, before making some bumpy turns and then going off the rails during the climax. I wanted to like it more than I did. Still, I’d rather see something that tries too much and comes up a little short than something that plays it completely safe. Glazer and Lee may not make all of their points cleanly, while also maintaining dread-fueled suspense. But I enjoyed watching them try.
3 out of 5
Ilana Glazer as Lucy
Justin Theroux as Adrian
Pierce Brosnan as Dr. Hindle
Gretchen Mol as Nurse Dawn
Sophia Bush as Corgan
Josh Hamilton as Greg
Zainab Jah as Grace Singleton
Directed by John Lee
Written by Ilana Glazer and John Lee