By: Kayla Caldwell
FALSE POSITIVE, written by Broad City’s Ilana Glazer and John Lee, and directed by Lee, begins en media res, with an alarming amount of blood, followed by some aptly-chosen music that feels both dreamy in an 80s way, but also foreboding?
We meet Adrian (Justin Theroux) and Lucy (Ilana Glazer), a trendy, wealthy couple, with a bit of an age disparity, and a desire to become parents. Lucy shares yet another disappointing pregnancy test, before Adrian convinces her to contact this fancy fertility doctor, because he is seriously “the best in the biz.”
There are a lot of unflinching, close-up shots of Lucy’s face throughout FALSE POSITIVE, that on first viewing, I found to be super uncomfortable. Upon a second viewing, I realized, of course, that’s the point.
Reproductive issues, such as infertility, can be invasive, embarrassing, and even painful for women. It’s just that you don’t really have another choice if you’re struggling with having a child. It’s a hard pill to swallow, but feels necessary when society spends all of its time telling you, in no uncertain terms, that your sole purpose is to have children.
Think about it, we learn early on that this couple has been struggling for two years to conceive. Of course they’re feeling at the end of their rope. Lucy completely changed her lifestyle to prepare for this, even giving up alcohol for two years to provide a healthier home for any potential little ones. I don’t know from personal experience, but I know other mothers who would tell you that even if you are “doing all the right things,” fertility struggles can still happen to you.
Cut to Dr. Hindle’s office, which I realize you’d want to be tidy. However, it just feels so… well, ironically, sterile. And you’ll get no comfort from the nurses, who all look like they’re either Instagram models dressed like sexy nurses for Halloween (a notion which is not helped by one of the nurses later saying that she “trained herself not to have a gag reflex), or actresses in some Ratched x Stepford Wives crossover by Ryan Murphy. Think lots of styled, blonde hair, and very fitted uniforms. They also all have forced smiles glued on their faces as if they've been sewn into a grin by The Other Mother from Coraline.
Once Lucy is in the vulnerable position of being in the stirrups, it’s here we learn that Dr. John Hindle (Pierce Brosnan) and Adrian are friends. He praises Adrian, a reconstructive surgeon, before shifting the spotlight to himself. He reveals that the method of fertilization at Hindle is a mix of in vitro insemination (IVF) and intrauterine insemination (IUI), which he likes to call “in utero-hindle-fertilization.”
Any woman reading this, or watching FALSE POSITIVE has likely come across a doctor who thinks he’s God and is quick to dismiss your chronic symptoms as “stress” or “paranoia,” because of course he knows best. This would be enough to mine from for a social thriller, but FALSE POSITIVE perhaps bit off more than it could chew, also taking on sexism in the workplace, women with internalized misogyny, racism, a bit of white guilt, and “mommy brain,” which is actually a real thing. (Editor note: Yes, I looked it up. Women’s brains actually shrink and suffer impaired cognitive functioning during pregnancy. You can straight up forget your partner’s name, Shannon Siep, co-author of Momnesia confirmed.)
Lucy works in marketing at a small firm composed entirely of men. She gets called into her boss Greg’s office at one point, and even as he tells her that she’s talented and he’s pushing for her to get a promotion, the emphasis still seems to be more on the favor he was doing her than how much she actually deserved it.
This man (Josh Hamilton) is trying so hard to be “woke,” it’s actually offensive. They begin discussing a pitch that he thinks Lucy would be great for because of her “female intuition.” Then he says, “Although I like to think I cover a little of that myself,” and I cringed so hard I almost pulled a muscle. To make the moment even more painfully relatable, Greg then pivots with shocking quickness to what he would like for lunch from trendy, healthy chain Dig Inn - because Lucy may be a talented employee, but she’s still a woman, am I right?
The doctor’s office scenes are even more cringe, with Hindle making the world’s most uncomfortable dad jokes, like when the nurse brings in Adrian’s sperm sample and he says, “Good work, son. This is powerful stuff.” Dr. Hindle also just assumes Lucy would want to watch the insemination process, setting up a mirror beside him like it’s a home ec class in junior high rather than a pretty invasive medical procedure.
You can see moments where Broad City’s relatable humor mixes with the film’s social commentary, such as when Adrian reveals his first boy name suggestion, after much fanfare, only to suggest his own name. Lucy quips, “As in, junior?” Thinking what we’re all thinking, which is "Aw, how cishet white male of you, Adrian."
But the pregnancy bliss is quickly interrupted with sporadic health scares, bleeding, and the news that three fertilized eggs have actually attached, so now Lucy has to decide between welcoming twin boys or one daughter. And yes, that also requires another procedure, ominously called “selective reduction,” that Nurse Dawn (Gretchen Mol) sketchily tells the couple not to speak about with anyone.
Receiving this jarring news must have been hard, but what really stuck with me from that scene was when Dr. Hindle called Adrian into the hallway to talk to him about something in private, while all the nurse did was pat Lucy’s head and call her a pet name, like she was a dog nervous about fireworks.
It would seem implausible that a doctor would hide important information from his patient, that is, if I didn’t already know of laws such as one in Kansas that legally allows doctors to lie and withhold information from their own patients if they believe that the shared information might lead to the women considering an abortion. One thing FALSE POSITIVE succeeds at is filling the viewer with the helpless rage that women feel all the time, for not being able to have control of what happens to their own bodies.
Lucy is questioned at every turn. Her husband worries she will “regret her decisions” and encourages her to join a mommy group because he clearly hates her current friends. When they argue, he half apologizes, saying things like, “I’m sorry if I made you feel bad,” slyly laying all the responsibility on her wild emotions rather than his actions. Everything is “We did it!” or “We’re pregnant!” Not to be crass, but - sir, all you did was jack off. Maybe put a moratorium on the “we” talk.
Meanwhile, if Adrian needs something, like a speech for an event where Dr. Hindle wants him to present an award, Lucy volunteers without hesitation. She’s happy to write the speech for him, while he not-so-subtly makes it known that he would be fine with her giving up all of her hard work and career to stay home with future offspring.
It isn’t just him, though. Lucy’s friends, like Corgan (Sophia Bush), don’t really ever seem to take her seriously, blaming her every concern on “mommy brain.” Every doctor’s visit Lucy is coddled, told to ignore any concerns, and certainly not to Google. At one point Lucy goes to shake Dr. Hindle’s hand, but instead, he grabs her, pulling her into a forced hug.
It isn’t any better at work, where the same men who literally cheered when Lucy announced her pregnancy, now believe she’s not equipped to lead the account that she had earned through her brilliant pitch. Don’t worry though, they still plan on using her deck and all of her ideas.
She turns to Grace Singleton (Zainab Jah), the “midwife with soul,” for reassurance away from the sterile doctor’s office and friends and a husband who are all so entranced by the enigmatic Dr. Hindle. This is one of the particular instances where Lee and cinematographer Pawel Pogorzelski (Midsommar, Hereditary) use unsettling dream-type sequences that leave you wondering, “Is this a dream? Is this really happening? Or is this 'mommy brain?'"
Singleton is Lucy’s ethnic and magical heroine, sporting cultural garb, an afro, and speaking in poems about spirituality and mysticism. Except, in reality, she’s a fed-up Black woman with a slicked-back bun and a look of exhaustion on her face, as she confirms to Lucy that her office was never really the stereotype she had envisioned. Lucy is dumbfounded and looking for answers, but Singleton is not messing around. Jah brilliantly delivers the lines, “I don’t have the answers. It’s not my job. It’s yours.”
It’s a great commentary on race relations in America, especially currently, wherein white Americans seem to expect Black people, and other people of color, to prove their own dehumanization by providing examples, painful anecdotes, and depressing statistics just so the person in privilege can maybe decide to throw a smidgeon of empathy their way. However, it feels there isn’t enough time to really consider this point, with so much else going on. It’s glossed over, and comes across initially as a bit confusing. Sometimes it’s hard, even as a viewer, to cut through the “mommy brain.”
The further along in her pregnancy she gets, the more unhinged Lucy seems to become. She forgets things she’s done, things she’s said. The resemblance to Roman Polanski’s Rosemary Baby’s is abundantly clear, in the way that the husband seems more focused on his desires and advancing his own career than the hell in which his wife has found herself.
The decision to tackle some of the more polarizing societal issues of the day is admirable, if not a bit unrealistic. The tone and flow of the film struggle as they bounce between attempts at horror, drama, comedy, and political issues. FALSE POSITIVE never really finds its footing in any camp, though it’s not for lack of trying.
Glazer is at her best as Lucy realizes her intuition had never been wrong, and wears the determined, dead eyes of a woman who has given up, or as in The Witch, resigned herself to following her baser instincts. It’s a different side of the actress, who ironically, is currently pregnant with her first child.
Theroux is shockingly unlikeable for a man that good looking as Adrian, and Brosnan looks like he had a great, old time playing an amalgamation of every patronizing, self-assured, doctor with a God complex that you’ve ever met. When he says, “most people don’t understand what’s best for them,” it’s very clear that by “most people” he means women, and anyone else he deems below him. Rings a few bells what with the innumerable attacks on Roe v. Wade of late.
On first viewing, I was disappointed by FALSE POSITIVE, especially because as an avid true crime fan, I sadly saw the ending coming quite early on. But the more I thought about it, the more I respect this risky stance at such a polarizing time in our country. At times, FALSE POSITIVE is unbearably relatable - at others, confusingly artistic and unclear.
But for a first foray into feature-length film writing, it's exactly the energy you’d expect from a Broad City co-creator. FALSE POSITIVE isn’t your typical Friday night popcorn flick. And it may not be a genre-bending work of art the likes of Midsommar or Get Out, but it does offer a jumping off point for discussion of a host of serious, political, and humanitarian issues going on in the world. That’s not too shabby for a new horror movie that’s only about an hour and a half long.
FALSE POSITIVE is streaming now on Hulu.