A24 and Hulu’s False Positive sure is a fitting title for a movie as unsuccessful yet interesting as False Positive. Here is a film that works, but doesn’t. It entertains, yet it frustrates. It sticks in the memory, and yet we’ve seen it all before. It’s a movie with its own identity, and yet watching it, it’s hard to detect what identity it is, with the exception of a few moments that did make me chuckle, and even when the chuckling occurred, it made me wonder if the film was up to something, which I think it is… I think. Yet at the end of the day, it’s hard to tell if that something was… good. Yet it was interesting.
Catch my drift?
The film brought to mind an odd filmmaking experiment from about six years ago, called A Deadly Adoption. The film, which premiered on the Lifetime Movie Network, was about a couple who hires a surrogate mother to deliver their child, only it turns out the surrogate is crazy and has no intention of letting them keep the baby. Sounds like typical LMN material, yet headlining the movie was none other than Will Ferrell and Kristin Wiig. Approaching this movie, one would assume it’s a comedy in disguise, with those two involved and Ferrell spouting lines like, “You know the dangers of diabetic-ketoacidosis!” Yet the film’s joke was simply that it was a Lifetime movie, starring Kristin Wiig and Will Ferrell. It was a funny idea, but its execution was just… interesting. False Positive reminds me of that film also because serving as the star and co-writer is Ilana Glazer.
Glazer was the star and writer of Comedy Central’s Broad City, and also starred in comedies like The Night Before and Rough Night. So knowing this background, one would assume that the film would have a comedic edge. There are shades of it, particularly in a latter-half reveal that I called, but was tickled to be correct. Yet the film borrows from movies like Rosemary’s Baby and The Omen and what not, but doesn’t add enough of a comedic edge to it. So it mostly feels like another rendition of familiar stories. It’s entertaining, to be sure, but also frustrating because you not only can’t tell if it’s intended as a joke, but also, you’re frustrated because if it is intended as a joke, we wish it had gone all the way.
Glazer is Lucy, a nice woman who is happily married to Adrian (Justin Theroux, my celebrity crush). She works for a magazine, I think, and he is a surgeon, and both have been trying to have a child for a while now. Lucy wants it to be a natural birth, but ultimately, Adrian persuades her to see a fertility doctor. Adrian happens to know said fertility doctor, named Dr. Hindle (Pierce Brosnan). Pretty much the instant Dr. Hindle and his secretary (Gretchen Mol, looking tremendous) enter the film, we sense they’re up to no good. It’s due to our familiarity with this type of movie, though honestly, even if you’d never seen another movie, it would be easy to detect. Because they’re just so… nice. In fact, everyone around Lucy, except Lucy, feels nice and cornily over the top, which leaves you to wonder if this was the joke… but if it was, it should’ve been more of a joke.
Anyways, with the help of Hindle, Lucy finally ends up pregnant! But… it’s not all good news. She is told immediately that she is not only pregnant with twin boys, but also a girl, yet they’re in separate sacs, so they’ll all have unsuccessful births (meaning death) unless Lucy and Adrian choose between the twins, or the girl. Lucy wants the girl; Adrian teeters towards the boys, since they had so much trouble conceiving in the first place. Ultimately, she chooses to keep the girl. Yet during the months she’s pregnant, it leads to Lucy being plagued by visions, losing her grip on her job, and being in constant paranoia about everyone around her, including her unborn child.
So, see, False Positive sounds like those that came before it, yet it might have worked if Glazer had made it clear that this was meant to be comedic. That’s not to say that it didn’t elicit a laugh, but who is to know if it’s intentional? Had the film established a comedic identity, then the film could’ve been something. As is, it’s certainly entertaining, and the actors all appear to be game, but it mostly feels like more of the same because we’re not sure if there’s a spin to it. Take a movie like Jordan Peele’s Get Out. It took tropes from other films, and threw them into a beautiful blender and gave us something new and honestly brilliant. That was a horror film, but also a comedy, but its joke wasn’t that it was a horror movie; its joke was in the discomfort provided by the scenario. Watching False Positive, you sense that Glazer was going for a female Get Out, as it touches upon mysogony and what not. Yet it doesn’t really properly develop.
The concept of the nightmares she has too also don’t add up by the time you reach the end of it. Is she actually crazy? If not, why is she having these nightmares, unless it’s to serve as an homage to Rosemary’s Baby? Can you see the frustration. What will surprise you though is that even though False Positive doesn’t really work as a film- its identity somewhat unidentifiable, its plot rehashed, its surprises unsurprising- I… am kind of glad I saw it, and also sort of think it’s worth seeing in the way that it might strike up a conversation. The climax doesn’t necessarily work either but its final moments are so distinctly bizarre that during them it made complete sense as to why A24 would choose to produce this film. It’s not a film that I can recommend nor is really one I enjoyed, but it is one I won’t forget.