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False Positive

Positive False

Is that injection... going to make my hair flat forever?

dir: John Lee

2021

This movie sounds like a lot of things.

First of all, it sounds like a parody of a thriller, with a title that sounds like one of the movie titles they parodied in Seinfeld. No shit, I distinctly remember there was a movie the crew really wanted to see called Prognosis Negative.

Second, they take an actor and comedian famous for her curly black hair, being Ilana Glazer, and give her this ironed down wig look in a pretense of WASPy normality. I’m pretty sure it’s a wig. Although, I say “famous for”, but I guess people who didn’t watch the charming and chaotic Broad City, in which Ilana and Abbi Jacobson ruled might have no idea who she is. But why would you take someone so funny and give them nothing funny to do? Who is your imagined audience for this? Anxious potential parents?

Presumably they’re watching this for Justin Theroux. Or maybe they’re big fans of Pierce Brosnan?

Third, they take a well known horror concept (a woman giving over her body to an alien parasite, otherwise known as a baby), and freaking out for the whole pregnancy thinking people are out to hurt her or the baby, but invert it because a) she is paranoid and delusional but b) they are out to get her. And it gives every reviewer over forty an excuse to mention Rosemary’s Baby, but in my case it's only to say Roman Polanski is still a piece of shit.

The movie starts with Lucy (Ilana Glazer) walking down a street, covered in blood, so we can easily assume that something not quite right is going to be happening to her.

But then we presumably cut to the past, where she and her already creepy husband are trying and failing to get her pregnant. He’s a doctor of some description, and she’s a successful marketing type person who her colleagues are in awe of (up until the moment where her pregnancy is seen as a reason to push her to the side). She actually says at one point “I could be one of those women that actually has it all”. Has anyone in the history of grand set ups to have everything fall down around them ever said anything different?

There’s the level to engage with such a story in a way that is relatable and human: those of us in couples who’ve tried to have kids and lost them, or persisted and lost them again, or eventually had them after nine months of torment for the mother (followed by another year of no sleep), only to have not everything go like clockwork, or the house look like a White Woman’s Instagram page.

Then there are the unlucky people who’ve had to follow the more fraught route of donors, of fertility treatments and IVF, of very expensive treatments, losing them again and again, feeling like it was all for nothing if you don’t at least get a baby at the end of it. It’s the sunk cost fallacy of gambling addiction applied to having children, and it’s terrifying to consider.

That’s the stage Lucy and Adrian are at when they turn to the immediately creepy Dr Hindle (Brosnan), who has a perfectly polite and paternalistic manner meant to put people at ease, but, honestly, even if the soundtrack wasn’t signalling to us that something off was happening, his weird dialogue would leave us in no doubt.

From the get go he’s saying stuff about how he’s put a part of himself in so many people, and how he’s a part of all these families going forward, and how he’s so awesome he just wishes he could clone himself, and it’s the only bit of this horror set up that comes from real life, in that he’s telling us openly what he’s planning on doing: impregnating all these desperate women with his genetic material.

It’s…ew. It’s so wrong. I’m not even going to pretend I was a genius for figuring that out right from the start, but it was disgustingly obvious, and we were meant to think it, because Lucy does too.

Lucy is… just to use up all the clichés about first time mothers, she is very anxious, she’s worried about something going wrong, but she’s also worried about losing herself through the process of having a baby, she (bafflingly) gets dragooned into an expectant mothers group, all of whom seem to have struggled with getting pregnant, all of whom act like the fakest fucking people alive, and it’s obvious that these Stepford mothers are part of the grand conspiracy.

That’s what the film does, it combines the usual fears of expectant parents, along with a whole bunch of other deranged delusions that Lucy has, none of which have anything to do with the fact that there are people who are lying to her, many of which are terrible, horrible nightmares. But, I guess, are we meant to think that Lucy, on some intuitive level, knows that Dr Fuckface is very wrong, and that her own husband is lying to her, and this manifests in terrible delusions that have nothing to do with the reality of what’s actually going on?

Maybe the grander point is that just because someone is delusional and paranoid, and perhaps even suffering from pre-partum psychosis, that doesn’t mean the misogynist aspects of the medical system as represented by a prick with a god complex aren’t actively trying to take your agency and choices away from you.

I don’t know that both trains of thought really work that well together, travelling as they do in parallel until they trainwreck into each other towards the end. The actual crime that doctor and husband unite to perpetrate upon Lucy is bad enough, way worse than the demented shit she conjures up in her mind or in her dreams. The conspiracy that creepy Doctor arranges around Lucy is fucking farcical. I know parenthood can seem like a cult sometimes, and desperate people could be so grateful to a fertility guru that they would go out of their way to do weird and illegal things out of a sense of, gratitude? Obligation? But it doesn’t make that much sense, not real world sense.

Lucy, who doesn’t really get to feel like enough of a character, because she isn’t allowed to show that much personality (and if you know anything about Ilana from Broad City, you would know she has about as much personality as 40 New Yorkers), and other than seeming confused, afraid and distrustful, fixates on a midwife because of the cover of a magazine, one which has Dr Dickhead on the cover, as the modern marvel of fertility medicine, but it has this miraculous midwife at the bottom of the cover.

Lucy has imagined conversations with her, then actual conversations prior to what she thinks is going to be the birth of her daughter, and none of those, apparently, were that real. When she meets her again after the traumatic births, and sees that the room where she works isn’t an ethnically appropriate, jungle voodoo magical space like she thought, and the midwife intones “I am not your magical negress”, and Lucy dutifully apologises to her. I mean, so she should have, but if she was hallucinating because of a) the hormones Dr Dickbag gave her as part of her fertility treatments, or b) some other medications he monkeyed around with her brain with to ‘control’ her or c) some psychiatric condition either connected to the pregnancy or completely independent of it, how is she culpable for that (admittedly racist) hallucination versus the other ones, like imagining her husband blowing the good doctor, or the rattle and roll coming from ‘somewhere’ in the house?

I think, I feel like False Positive is not really as much of a movie as it thinks it is. I guess at the very end it becomes something of a dark comedy (though there is nothing funny throughout the flick until a surreal line delivered bizarrely by Gretchen Mol, about having gotten rid of her gag reflex, which was just fucking deranged), and there’s too much that we can’t know if it’s demented delusions on Lucy’s part or what may have happened. You’ll see a scene and then think “Did that actually happen?”, but then you’ll think “And does it matter, and do I care?”

I don’t think it’s a complete loss, but it feels like Ilana and director / writer John Lee started off saying “let’s start with the template of a Lifetime channel movie, but then make it funnier / darker”, but then couldn’t vary it enough, and just thought “fuck it, get it out there anyway.” I love Ilana Glazer, but this was neither strange enough to warrant my time, or dark enough to justify their time.

And those bonkers last scenes, with babies flying out the window in homage to Peter Pan, or the breastfeeding of something that couldn’t be breastfed…that just added insult to injury, and salted the incision of what becomes a very silly film.

The funniest thing for me is that, just after making this flick, during which she might have been pregnant, she gave birth to a child in June of 2021. I hope the birth was no way as traumatic as what happens in this flick, and that she definitely didn’t have to murder anyone for not following her birth plan. Her actual experiences of pregnancy and first time motherhood not at all inform any part of this flick, seemingly, and I just find it so baffling.

Oh well. Maybe a sequel will get it right.

6 times False Positive is Positively False out of 10

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“I am not your magical negress.” – well, maybe don’t talk about the sacredness of women’s intuition versus the gynaecological industry and the universe bursting forth with divine life from the vaginas of mothers in the act of creation, then, it would be less confusing - False Positive

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