Advantageous full movie review - Feminist dystopia featuring tale of mother-daughter bonding, might have been better as a one hour Twilight Zone-like episode
Advantageous is the second feature by Jennifer Phang based on the screenwriter/director's award-winning short film of the same name. Set in an unspecified future, Advantageous' setting was described by one critic as a "feminist dystopia."
The protagonist Gwen (played with great intensity by Jacqueline Kim) is a spokesperson for a biotech company, Center for Advanced Health and Living. When her superiors deem her too old to continue working in a job that demands a younger look, she's unceremoniously given the proverbial pink slip.
The problem is that in the future not only are there virtually no jobs for older, middle-aged woman, but an economic recession has led men to be given preference in the marketplace (sound like someplace you know?)
Gwen is faced with the crisis of not having enough funds to ensure that her teenage daughter, Jules (played by sensitive newcomer Samantha Kim) gets into an elite private school which will guarantee her upward mobility (the consequences of what happens to those who fail to move up in the world is hardly touched upon).
Gwen is so desperate that she tries to hit up her estranged sister for money. That's a no go after the sister gets wind of a family secret involving her husband, with whom Kim had an affair with long ago.
Of course that sounds more like melodrama--where the sci-fi comes in involves Kim contacting her ex-boss at the Center and agreeing to get involved in their untested soul transfer procedure. There's a Twilight Zone episode from long ago much like this: an "ordinary" woman is pressured into trading her body in for a new one with "model looks." Here, Gwen asks for the trade-in and ends up in the body of a much younger, supposedly more attractive woman, Gwen 2.0 (played by Freya Adams).
There are few surprises after Gwen becomes Gwen 2.0. Jules rather predictably can hardly stomach her "new mother" until there's some measure of acceptance at film's end. The female companion I was with at the film screening found Jules' dissonance and eventual coming to terms with the new situation to be an emotionally cathartic experience. For me the turn of events (that truly smacked of melodrama) suggested a lack of imagination.
Advantageous' central conceit, basically a body swap, has been used in countless other sci-fi potboilers. This might have been better as a one -hour episode in a Twilight Zone-like series. But here, the pacing is so slow, that only an extremely clever twist ending could have saved the floundering narrative.
Given its low budget, Ms. Phang did well with the limited resources she had to work with. Utilizing CGI effects, drone-like saucers are seen flying across a future urban landscape. Holograms are also made use of to suggest the future dystopia. The bulk of Advantageous was filmed in Brooklyn?thus, along with the special effects, one feels firmly ensconced in both the present day and a fanciful future-scape.
Most of Advantageous' drama revolves around the bonding between mother and daughter. Social issues are reduced to mysterious bombings in high-rises that are never truly explained. And the world Gwen inhabits is basically limited to immediate family and her employers. We really never do get a sense of what the world is like in the future beyond Gwen's narrow universe.
Advantageous' strong suit is the compelling performances of its principal actors. The rather derivative sci-fi plot however, is merely a vehicle to highlight the melodramatic interconnection between Gwen, Gwen 2.0 and Jules. I suspect that many more women can relate to a film such as this than men. The mere trappings of a futuristic society are not enough to truly engage a demanding, critical viewer. Again, this is a film that simply needed to be far more imaginative than the final product proffered up here.