A Mother’s Love Goes Beyond Science In this Somber Futuristic Drama
Jennifer Phang’s Advantageous is a beautiful and painful science fiction tale, in which its main characters are deeply affected by a wondrous scientific breakthrough. However, despite this monumental advancement, the narrative element that proves to be an even greater, more impressive wonder is one of the most primal of our species – a mother’s love.
When we first meet Gwen (Jacqueline Kim, who also co-wrote the film with Phang), she has it all in a futuristic world where women, particularly single mothers, seem to have more trouble than ever staying afloat, let alone getting ahead. She has a great job at the Center for Advanced Health and Living (literally referred to as the face of the Center). Gwen’s young daughter, Jules (Samantha Kim in an absolutely marvelous feature debut) adores her and she’s also on the verge of getting Jules admitted into a renowned prep school.
And then one day it all goes to hell faster than a burning house of cards in a tornado. It begins with the words no person of our modern era, let alone a woman in this bleak, futuristic corporate environment, would ever want to hear: Marketing just submitted a report showing pretty clearly that a younger demographic would benefit from awareness of our technology. Ouch. Double ouch, considering it’s her boss, and former flame, Dave (James Urbaniak) who delivers this news. It’s all the more insulting because Gwen looks like she’s in her mid- to late twenties! Just like that, she is now out of a job. Her financial stability slowly bleeds out and, soon enough, her hope as well.
Gwen is then intrigued by an opportunity that emerges from a breakthrough at the Center. They discover a way to transfer human consciousness into a new host body. She volunteers to be the first prominent subject and regain her status as the (new and younger) face of the Center, demonstrating to the public that the technology indeed works. However, in a semi-clandestine meeting, Dave warns her of potential negative side effects they observed in the initial test subjects. Gwen insists on proceeding, regardless, thinking of Jules’ future. Her decision bears fateful repercussions for all those involved.
Sometimes less really is more. I really appreciate Phang’s minimalist usage of effects that are present enough to establish a futuristic setting without intruding upon the film’s intimate core of its mother-daughter tale. And while I fully understand some of that might have been due to budget constraints, it still works much like the modest effects and sets utilized in Kurt Wimmer’s underrated Equilibrium (2002).
The performances are also all just fantastic. This is one of those movies where every cast member really brought their A-game and delivered some knockout work, especially from the young phenom, Samantha Kim. Her character, Jules, gets put through the ringer emotionally, particularly in the last act, and she absolutely kills it. Some of her scenes are just devastating to watch and will undoubtedly move most viewers to tears. James Urbaniak is his usual awesome self with limited screen time. I’ve been a longtime fan of him going back to his work in the late 90s with New York auteur, Hal Hartley. Ken Jeong also surprises in a serious role, albeit, also with very little time spent on-screen. Furthermore, this has been an interesting year for actors playing the same character within the same film. Love and Mercy did it earlier this year with Paul Dano and John Cusack splitting time as a younger and older Brian Wilson, respectively. We get it again this time around with Jacqueline Kim and Freya Adams as two different versions of Gwen. It works just as seamlessly and brilliantly here as it did in the former.
The best dystopian science fiction takes a premise of our modern world and perverts it at a heavily magnified rate. This film takes a look at some of the very real pressures women currently face, particularly in the workplace and for career longevity, and emphasizes the heartless, dangerous paths that could lead to the erosion of their future well-being. Early on in the film, Jules, an adolescent girl, laments her self-mandated need to be “smarter, nicer, prettier and classier” despite being so young. In another scene, we see a masked teen girl shamefully slip out of her heels and into flats near a wooded area of a park as if to avoid being seen. Lastly, and most saddening, are the sick lengths a company forces one of its highly-valued female employees to go through to (in Gwen’s own words no less, sigh) “push the product.”
Jennifer Phang has masterfully crafted an endearing story about the drastic measures a mother will take to protect the best interests of her child. While any mother worthy of being called one has done that since time began, it’s especially poignant to see it persist in a future that seems so bleak.