Director: Jennifer Phang
Cast: Jacqueline Kim, James Urbaniak, Freya Adams
Synopsis: In a near-future city where soaring opulence overshadows economic hardship, Gwen and her daughter Jules do all they can to hold on to their joy together, despite the instability surfacing in their world.
There can’t be many of us over the age of 40 who hasn’t felt at one time or another that we’re struggling to keep up with the relentless pace of technological change, and now, with the concept of singularity, comes the very real prospect that, one day, we’ll all be left behind. Man makes machine, machine makes better machine, and like a Betamax recorder, man finds himself rapidly becoming obsolete. It’s a subject ripe for exploration by filmmakers, and there are many in the business that would have Will Smith chasing around some glistening metropolis in a glossy race against time. But Jennifer Phang’s vision of the future is a more contemplative humanist one which nevertheless paints a truly frightening picture. It’s the rise of the machines seen as a personal tragedy, and very good it is, too.
Jacqueline Kim, Phang’s co-writer, plays Gwen, a forty-something woman who learns some unpleasant truths about opportunities for women in an economic climate which openly favours the employment of men in order to keep unrest to a minimum when unemployment is as high as 45%. She frequently hears the weeping of female neighbours from the apartment she shares with her intelligent and perceptive daughter, Jules (Samantha Kim), and is uncomfortably aware of how fragile their apparently comfortable lifestyle really is. Married women stay at home while their partners work, and single females often have no choice but to resort to prostitution to survive. A good start in life is vital, but Gwen’s unexpected job loss means Jules will be unable to attend a decent school unless she can come up with $10,000, a seemingly impossible sum.
At 40-something, Gwen is considered too old to continue as the media face of her biomedical company employers, especially as it is about to launch a revolutionary de-aging process in which the mind of a sick or aging person can essentially be transplanted into a new, young body. Gwen revisits the past in the hope of borrowing money from family members from whom she has long been estranged, but she’s unsuccessful, and as her desperation grows, she hits on the idea of offering herself as a test subject for her former employers’ revolutionary new procedure.
Phang creates a chillingly believable world in Advantageous which, although set in the future, will resonate with many people – women, in particular. The film’s scenario is the logical conclusion to a technological journey which is already under way (a report in the UK in September 2015 calculated that 35% of jobs in the country are at high-risk of becoming automated in the next two decades), but to which we’ve given little consideration in terms of economic and social impact. While Advantageous serves as a cautionary tale in one respect, it also examines how easily a person (or, in fact, society’s) humanity is threatened by technological change. In a very real sense, Gwen’s very core – the person that she is – becomes a victim of change in a chillingly plausible scenario.
The film’s first hour coolly dissects the implications of its imagined world, and Phang provides concise examples of just how technological sophistication can co-exist with widespread social deprivation: a girl sleeping rough at the foot of a towering structure, another, of school age, tearfully changing shoes after an encounter in a park which suggests she is already selling her body. Unfortunately, the third act finds it impossible to expand on its subject without straying into more familiar SF territory, and it suffers from the necessary absence of Kim, whose poise and subtleties of expression are sorely missed. Nevertheless, Advantageous provides intelligent and thoughtful speculation on the direction in which humanity is blithely heading, and deserves to be more widely seen than it undoubtedly will.
(Reviewed 12th October 2015)