Advantageous presents a dystopian world in the near future where people spend most of their time talking on their invisible phones (think Google Glass without the glasses) and exchanging hologram messages. In this familiar landscape of constant connection but zero contact, prophesied cinematically at least since Denise Calls Up, Gwen (Jacqueline Kim) struggles to keep her job at some nasty corporation while her young daughter, Jules (Samantha Kim), wallows in existential questions such as “natural deselection,” because humanity keeps making the same wrong choices over and over again.
While navigating the world through Siri-esque dictation is clearly not a far-fetched exercise in science fiction, here we also have early experiments in transferring consciousness from one old body to a younger and more attractive one. Kind of like an extreme makeover of ontological proportions. Which turns out to be Gwen’s last-resort career move: downloading her knowledge and personality onto a twin version of herself that her bosses wouldn’t want to fire. The fact that her daughter, who’s already marred by self-esteem issues, will have to live with her doppelganger doesn’t seem to be much of a problem, which might mean what Gwen really wants isn’t to cling on to her corporate job, but to actually disappear. Who wouldn’t? Her unnamed city is like the barren Toronto of Dennis Villeneuve’s Enemy, only without the spiders. Even if occasionally drone-esque flying objects zoom through the skylines.
Advantageous’s visual effects are sophisticated for a low-budget film, and the acting is pleasantly realistic, but filmmaker Jennifer Phang portrays this very near future like a universe of such quietness and sterility that it’s difficult to care about its inhabitants. The dialogue is so disaffected it’s as if humans were replicants even before going through the aforementioned twin-making procedure. And yet the somberness of this world isn’t complicated enough to amount to some great conceptual allegory, nor is it sufficiently aestheticized to become an interesting exercise in style. Its general pathos isn’t different from Blade Runner, A.I., or Children of Men—even if, here, we have a single mother as the heroine who isn’t trying to save the world, only trying to make ends meet.
The film also takes a rather unnecessary soap-operatic turn toward the end, in which Gwen reveals a dramatic family secret involving her estranged sister. Its soundtrack can sometimes make the already overtly self-aware lines of dialogue redundantly ominous, as when a character mouths an academically precise sentence about a woman’s worth being measured by the totality of her decisions, not her race. In one of the few moments when Advantageous makes us feel something, Gwen gives her daughter a hug after seeing an art piece that Jules had drawn, telling her that it’s good to be humble, but that you also need to know the value of your ideas and of you kindness, “that’s the secret beauty everyone wants.” The scene is powerful not because of the warnings or lessons the film wants to spell out, but precisely because of what it can’t account for: the quiet drama that slips out of Kim’s nuanced performance. Her voice cracks with the barely avowed emotion, her face clenches as though it were a fist, and suddenly we’re in the unpredictable domain of the human, not the pedagogical.