Advantageous

****

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

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, despite the instability surfacing in their world.
"As with the best science fiction, the technology of the future is used to explore the human condition of the present."

What if dystopia didn't arrive with acid rain-slicked city streets, the zombie apocalypse or an architectural takeover of glass and steel, asks Jennifer Phang's intelligent science fiction drama. What if we simply bought into a less equal place because the idea was perfectly packaged and sold to us? And what if it was just around the corner? As one character puts it in the film: "Everyone's just greedy or desperate." Sound familiar?

That is the world inhabited by Gwen (Jacqueline Kim, who co-wrote the screenplay) and her daughter Jules (Samantha Kim). Gwen is a single mum but doing okay, courtesy of being the 'face' of a top tech corporation which offers clients the promise of becoming "the you you want to be" without cosmetic surgery.

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Her chief concern is Jules. She's young and precocious but being gifted is only part of the equation as school places - as they are for so many children in today's America - are handed out by lottery. If she secures a place at the right school, Gwen will still have to grease the wheels and even that may not be enough in a world where women are being increasingly forced out of the marketplace in favour of men - for the sake of families, of course.

Gwen is about to discover that being the best at her job is not good enough either, as she has slipped out of the 'perfect' demographic her firm are chasing. They have a solution for her but it won't come without enormous sacrifice. To say much more about what lies in store for Gwen would be to spoil the journey - but Phang's film isn't just about a pretty twist. She builds her world carefully, showing through details such as the distant sobbing of neighbours or a child sleeping rough, that beneath the gloss of technology mankind is in a bind. Phang also plays down the tech aspects of the story, with CGI used so sparingly that if you were unaware of the film's genre, you could watch the first 10 minutes or so without even realising we've travelled to the future.

Although there is a strong tradition of feminist science fiction writing, including the work of Ursula Le Guin and Margaret Atwood, recent science fiction films such as Her and Ex Machina have had strong female characters - but they have been constructed to male ideals and the plotlines driven, at least in part, by sexual attraction. Gwen and her daughter, and, later, a cousin (Jennifer Ikeda) are living, breathing examples of womanhood and the territory being explored by Phang is love. And when the idea of 'creation' does occur, the result is picked by Jules, her choice an indication of how insidious marketing ideas of societal perfection can be passed down the generations.

The feminist threads are strong, even reflected in Dara Wishingrad's production design - with a central building on the city skyline having a feminine, almost corseted shape, a sign, perhaps, that women have become increasingly 'decorative'. Stacey Jordan's costume work is also highly effective, with Gwen frequently shown in crushed fabrics that mirror the mental state she finds herself in.

As this is a story of connection and transition it is demanding for the actors, particularly for young Samantha Kim and Freya Adams, whose own version of struggling womanhood comes to the fore towards the end of the runtime. As with the best science fiction, the technology of the future is used to explore the human condition of the present and it suggests that trouble - particularly for the female of the species - is a lot closer than we think, especially if we're happy to be complicit.

Reviewed on: 29 Jan 2015
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In a near-future city, a mother faces a stark choice about her future.

Director: Jennifer Phang

Writer: Jacqueline Kim, Jacqueline Kim, Jennifer Phang, Jennifer Phang

Starring: Jacqueline Kim, James Urbaniak, Jennifer Ehle, Rex Lee, Freya Adams, Ariana Altman, Mercedes Griffeth, Olivia Horton, Amy Huckabay, Jennifer Ikeda, Ken Jeong, Sameerah Luqmaan-Harris, Rebecca Pitkin, Troi Zee

Year: 2015

Runtime: 90 minutes

Country: US

Festivals:

Sundance 2015

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