Ilana Glazer co-writes and stars in a jarring thriller about a mother-to-be suffering from paranoia…or is she?
Pregnancy sucks. Though we do it all the time, because otherwise god forbid more women would choose to not subject themselves to it, it seems almost morally wrong to sugarcoat it. Even an “easy” pregnancy is uncomfortable at best, when foods you normally love become repulsive, and even tasks as simple as putting on shoes become a comedy of errors, if your feet can even still fit in them. Childbirth itself is the most excruciating pain the human body can endure, and the effort for such a “natural and beautiful” process can result in vaginal tears that can make future intercourse difficult. Mostly, we just get real weird about pregnant people. Pregnancy is perceived as a communal event, with everyone, even casual friends and co-workers pushing advice and suggestions, while often dismissing (if not shutting down outright), the pregnant person’s needs and concerns. Ilana Glazer and John Lee’s False Positive is a chillingly effective look at an expectant parent’s sharp decline from excitement to unease to paranoid terror. Her fears are brushed off as part of “mommy brain,” but there may be something to it.
Glazer, almost unrecognizable without her signature curly hair, is Lucy Martin, an advertising exec, who, along with surgeon husband Adrian (Justin Theroux), has been trying unsuccessfully to get pregnant for the past two years. The couple manages to get an appointment with highly regarded fertility specialist Dr. John Hindle (Pierce Brosnan, shattering the smarm-o-meter), which by all appearances is as difficult as scoring a table at a celebrity chef’s new restaurant. Though Dr. Hindle greets the couple with so much familial warmth you’d think he and Adrian, his former student, are actually long-lost brothers, there’s something a bit off-putting about the situation.
Perhaps it’s his open office plan, which looks more like a WeWork than a sensitive medical practice. Or maybe it’s the passel of blonde nurses all wearing old-fashioned pink minidresses, headed by Dawn (Gretchen Mol), whose empty, dead-eyed smile should send new patients fleeing out the door the minute they see her.
Or maybe it’s Dr. Hindle himself, who comes off as equal parts empathetic and condescending, and spends far more time speaking to Adrian than Lucy. Regardless, Lucy goes through with the IVF process, and not only does she get pregnant, she gets pregnant with triplets, identical twin boys and a separate girl, much smaller than her brothers and not expected to survive. Dr. Hindle pushes the idea of “selective reduction” (in essence aborting one fetus to save others, a sad but not uncommon practice in multiple birth pregnancies), which Adrian supports without question.
Lucy, however, is immediately protective of her unborn daughter (perhaps because they’re both trying to push back against two stronger males), and wants to give her a chance to rally. That Adrian takes far too long to come around to her point of view and understand that it’s what he and Lucy want that matters, and not Dr. Hindle, is but one sign that something is deeply amiss, and that when Dr. Hindle says he’s now part of the family, he really means it.
Though you’d think with the writing team of Glazer and director John Lee, who worked together on Broad City, False Positive would be a satire of the special hell that is pregnancy, it’s surprisingly low on humor. A spin on Rosemary’s Baby (you’ll note that Adrian shares a first name with the titular character of the earlier film), it goes to unexpectedly dark places, with a horrifyingly sad ending that might be outright triggering to viewers who have suffered from pregnancy loss. While it becomes straight horror in the last ten minutes, mostly it’s an effective paranoia thriller, with moments that seem to exist solely to make the audience uncomfortable, like Adrian masturbating to violent porn while submitting a sperm sample, or how whenever Lucy is examined by Dr. Hindle there’s always at least three other people hovering over her and watching.
It goes to unexpectedly dark places, with a horrifyingly sad ending that might be outright triggering to viewers who have suffered from pregnancy loss.
While she and Theroux don’t really seem like a convincing married couple (though maybe that’s intentional, adding to the overall sense of “not right”), Glazer is quite good in a mostly serious role. In the space of just a few months, Lucy goes from believing she can have it all to cowed and undermined by every single man in her life, right down to her co-workers. She loses her agency (and even her humanity, to a certain extent), treated as merely a vessel for her fetuses, whose concerns are dismissed in favor of “what’s best for the babies.” Whether Lucy is merely imagining that Dr. Hindle and Adrian are conspiring against her, or it’s true (to say either way would spoil it), the feelings she’s experiencing are an only slightly exaggerated version of what pregnant people experience in real life. Pregnancy, while rewarding in the end (assuming you actually want children and aren’t merely going along with what society tells you), is a terrifying experience, and even well into the 21st century we’re too quick to offer platitudes rather than empathy.
Though it’s never explained why the bright and personable Lucy doesn’t seem to have any female friends other than suspiciously cheerful comrade-in-pregnancy Corgan (Sophia Bush), and the film could have benefited from more time spent on Lucy and Adrian’s relationship (has he always been that patronizing?), False Positive is a solid ninety minutes. That it has the guts to go the lengths it does is admirable, even if it may drive some viewers away.
False Positive premieres on Hulu June 25th.