Cinema East 2015 (Austin, TX)
By Don Simpson | June 30, 2015
Director: Jennifer Phang
Writer: Jacqueline Kim, Jennifer Phang
Starring: Jacqueline Kim, James Urbaniak, Freya Adams, Ken Jeong, Jennifer Ehle, Samantha Kim, Troi Zee, Olivia Horton, Jennifer Ikeda, Mercedes Griffeth, Sameerah Luqmaan-Harris, Theresa Navarro
Jennifer Phang’s Advantageous takes place in a future version of New York City in which “everyone’s just greedy or desperate” and women lose their worth with age. In other words, it sounds a whole lot like the world of today, just with some significant upgrades in technology and neuroscience.
Gwen (Jacqueline Kim) is a single mother whose primary concern is to provide her daughter, Jules (Samantha Kim), with a proper education so that she can at least have a chance at succeeding in life. When the marketing department of Gwen’s employer, the Center for Advanced Health and Living, a groundbreaking biomedical engineering corporation, decides that Gwen has grown too old to be their “face,” she will do practically anything in order to afford the astronomical tuition for Jules’ high school education.
This is a world in which overpopulation has forced women to sacrifice their careers to keep desperate men from roaming the streets. The proverbial glass ceiling of the job market has been lowered to such a point that only young, beautiful and well-educated women can remain employed. As if reaching back to the social mores of the 1950s, women are expected to return to the role of housewives in order to open up more jobs for the many men of the world.
Focusing primarily on its female characters, Advantageous hones in on the existential struggle of women. The future as imagined by Phang accentuates the social and economic pressures that women face today. The present day fixation on the youth and beauty of women is exaggerated in Advantageous, but our society’s current faults are still very recognizable; the idealized notion of physical perfection has not changed at all. Today there is plastic surgery, in the time of Advantageous there is advanced neurotechnology; in the present and the future, society is attempting to create an illusion of youth and beauty. Beneath that shroud of perfection, there is a pervasive sense of unhappiness (in Advantageous, female neighbors are constantly crying).
Serving as a feminist diatribe, of sorts, Advantageous showcases the horrors of a masculinized world driven by marketing, profit and beauty. The evils of Capitalism also extend to education, as Advantageous skillfully presents the negative impacts of privatized (for profit) education and the use of lottery systems for admittance — access to education is directly correlated to economic and social strata as well as luck, intelligence has seemingly been removed from the equation. All the while, on the periphery of Jules and Gwen’s existence, skyscrapers are regularly attacked, pollution has driven the price of drinking water through the roof, infertility is rampant, and the level of economic disparity is practically unfathomable.
Advantageous serves as a call for action in the present. Phang prognosticates that if society does not make changes soon, we will be heading to a dreadful place, especially for women and children.