‘False Positive,’ a new pregnancy thriller, asks: should we trust the science?
An early scene in False Positive, a fertility-clinic thriller now airing on Hulu, features Lucy, played by Ilana Glazer, expressing in frustration to her husband Adrian, played by Justin Theroux, that she can’t get pregnant on her own. The one thing she’s supposed to be able to do as a woman! Through a personal connection, Adrian hooks her up with fertility specialist, Dr. Hindle, played by the ever-debonair Pierce Brosnan. But Dr. Hindle’s suave attitude belies some fairly creepy behavior. Every word he says seems to be carefully rehearsed and overly clinical.
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You might be thinking well, so what? He’s a specialist. All the women he treats have the exact same problem. Isn’t it logical for him to just use the script every single time? And, well, that’s just it. While Lucy waxes on about her apparently special place in the universe, gleeful about the possibility that she may finally have it all, a wonderful husband, a child, a career, Dr. Hindle accidentally brings her down to earth by reminding her that pregnancy isn’t actually that special. Women get pregnant all the time, even without his help. Dr. Hindle has principally designed his careful enunciation of the term “fairy-tale ending” to sell a service.
Brosnan delivers a performance that’s so one-note that, after a certain point, it borders on self-parody. Even the final scene of False Positive, which features shocking and ridiculous utterances from the good doctor, maintains the same overly friendly and smiley tone as the scene quickly takes on violent proportions.
But Ilana Glazer’s performance as Lucy makes up nearly the entire perspective of the film. As new events unfold which suggest she’s ignorant of information that other characters may or may not expect her to already know, frustrations mount, both for her and the viewer. Director John Lee also rather outdoes himself in terms of ensuring that we empathize with Lucy even though, over time, it becomes hard for us to remember why she mistrusts the various people in her life. It doesn’t help that even from Lucy’s own perspective the most frightening moments of the movie, those featuring the most disturbing visual set pieces, are unambiguous dream sequences which even Lucy herself interprets symbolically rather than literally.
It’s not exactly a surprise that everything goes horribly wrong somehow, given that the first scene features a bloody Lucy staggering through the street. But that’s just the endpoint of Lucy’s bizarre adventure, where she has to rationalize the fact that she feels like garbage with the fact that she’s following her doctor’s orders and that’s what respectable people are supposed to do. As an intelligent educated woman, Lucy knows she should listen to her doctor, yet finds excuses not to, one of which takes on weird proportions as she twists a reasonable idea into a narrative so comically racist someone actually calls her out on it directly.
You can most easily read False Positive as a commentary on women’s healthcare. The movie’s repeated references to Mommy Brain are ridiculous and condescending. But consider this. Mommy Brain is real. Or, at least, that’s what the scientists tell us. We live in an era where a surprisingly large percentage of the population mistrusts scientists on general principle. Irrational though that may seem in general, it’s hard not to look at Lucy’s story and think about how easily people can talk themselves into thinking there are other explanations to what ails them.