Written and directed by John Lee, co-written by lead actress Ilana Glazer, as if getting pregnant weren’t complicated enough, Lucy sets out to uncover the unsettling truth about her fertility doctor. Also starring: Justin Theroux, Gretchen Mol, Sabina Gadecki, Pierce Brosnan, Sophia Bush and Zainab Jah.
False Positive opens on a blend of hopeful and ominous tones, it plays with the classic red flags of things being too clean, too easy or of people being too nice or too helpful. It immediately starts to build the discomfort that flows throughout, it’s designed to make you uncomfortable both through conscious and subconscious means. The style is one that’s a slow, simmering build, the tension is there but it’s not throwing it in your face. John Lee’s direction is at its best when it underplays its hand, keeping it simple and letting the focus be on Ilana Glazer’s Lucy, giving you the story through her perspective to enhance a sympathetic fear and suspicion. However, when it steps outside of that and lays it on a little thick with some effects or tries to become much more creative or outwardly expressive, things start to fall short of its previous quality. Those decisions undermine its story, they’re classic examples of trying too hard to be stylish or different, when the result is actually the opposite.
The story here for the most part is well done, it’s a strong and clear metaphor for the experience of pregnancy. It traverses how women are patronised, ignored, overruled and often treated as less than, while with child. As well as dipping in into the political angle of how decisions for women’s body, fertility and childbearing are often decided by men, who likely can’t see a woman’s perspective or aren’t willing to take it into account. The way that the dialogue is written also feels intentionally slightly off, it fosters that feeling that something is wrong, helping to build the suspicion more subtly at first but more strongly as time goes on.
In those regards, it’s cleverly written and a great way to talk about these very relevant and poignant issues, but the problem it creates is that a story such as this is hinged on a satisfying, justified ending and that’s not quite what they achieve. As it hits the last twenty minutes or so it begins to teeter on the edge, becoming unclear whether this is going to succeed or not and sadly, it’s more the latter. Its choices in the grand finale feel misguided, the progression is somewhat simplistic while trying to push that more outlandish style and the combination is sadly, unsatisfying. It loses itself in going for something more showy, making a few crucial choices that weaken what it had built.
One element that should be of no surprise is that Ilana Glazer gives a fantastic performance, it’s interesting to see her in a much more buttoned up role compared with some of the very cooky, unique and odd characters she’s played in the past. Glazer is the soul of this film, it all hinges on her holding the pieces together and she’s the most consistent aspect it has to offer, her performance is both strong and vulnerable, it’s sympathetic and relatable. It holds a very raw quality that keeps you hooked into the story. Justin Theroux and Pierce Brosnan are both great but they only really need to play one note the whole way through. Whereas Gretchen Mol is brilliant, her performance has that typical helpful outer layer while you can feel the wheels of judgement turning beneath. She creates a classically twisted and dark character, she barely has to say anything to get across how much you should not trust her, and that she’s not a woman you want to get on the bad side of. Put simply, she’d give Nurse Ratched a run for her money.
False Positive is clever and a very relevant metaphor for the treatment of pregnant women and how often choices about women’s health are made by men. Ilana Glazer gives yet another brilliant performance and watching her act alongside Gretchen Mol is extremely enjoyable. Which is why it’s a huge shame to have to see it let itself down in the end, it’s a great concept which works wonderfully but its latter choices undermine its quality. When it plays things slyly, slowly and simply it works very well but when it tries to throw in some more visually inventive or imaginative ideas, things go awry. There were a few forks in the road where it feels the filmmakers’ decisions took a wrong turn, ending on an unfortunate note, rather than the sharp, biting one it makes you pine for.