In the 2010s, before the world felt like a real dystopia, culture was obsessed with fake dystopias. Books and movies were exploring murderous teenagers in The Hunger Games, a grim climate future was predicted in Snowpiercer, and a criminal society was proposed by The Purge. It seemed to permeate every genre, but none more than science fiction. This 2015 movie on Netflix exemplifies the best of the dystopia craze and combines it with slow, deliberate allegorical storytelling.
Advantageous doesn't spoonfeed its worldbuilding. There's no montage in this movie that explains how the world works, just the timeless story of a single mom trying to provide the best for her child while also balancing a demanding job. When she loses her job as the spokesperson for a tech company because of her age, she realizes the only way she can afford her daughter's education is by undergoing the company's experimental operation that would transplant her memories and personality into a fresher, younger model.
This film feels like a mellow piano concerto, like the one the main character Gwen plays in the film's first act. It's slow and careful, adding to the exposition—and the stakes—gradually. Her daughter tells her that she'll be basically infertile by the time she's 20, and her employer tells her most middle-income jobs have been replaced by tech.
This is a very specific kind of dystopia, one that amplifies the hardships already faced by women nowadays. From beauty standards to the balancing of work and home life, it's a fable fit for dissection in a women's studies class. That doesn't take away from the sci-fi aspects, however. The last half-hour feels more like a classic story of tech gone wrong combined with the question of what exactly makes up our personalities.
Don't expect a Blade Runner-style future, however. The pacing of this film is incredibly deliberate, amplifying the isolation of this future. In one scene, Gwen hears crying and asks her daughter Jules if it's the woman upstairs or downstairs from their apartment. Jules stands up, craning her neck, then crouches to the floor before informing her mother, deadpan, that it's both.
With such a careful and slow story, the acting is more important than ever, and Jacqueline Kim delivers a masterful performance as a woman trying not to reveal how truly worried she is. As well as being the film's star, Kim also has a writing credit along with director/writer/editor triple threat Jennifer Phang. There's also a couple of surprising cameos, included Jennifer Ehle, star of Pride and Prejudice, as a cold, corporate boss, and an incredibly refreshing performance by Ken Jeong as Jules' estranged father.
It's true that the grass is always greener, and sometimes it's comforting to escape into another society for ninety minutes. If that's your plan, you can't go wrong with Advantageous, where the problems are all too relatable, but the solutions, and the consequences, are entirely science fiction.
Advantageous is now streaming on Netflix.