I tend to be skeptical of serious-looking science fiction films that I don’t hear about before they show up on Netflix, but I was interested in Advantageous when I learned that it was written and directed by Asian American women (Jennifer Phang and Jacqueline Kim, who also stars). I got really interested in it when I saw that it was being trumpeted as great feminist science fiction, although I still half expected it would be another entry in the enormous catalog of overly serious sci-fi movies that just don’t quite work for various reasons. It turns out that Advantageous is actually quite excellent, and is part of the rather smaller catalog of science fiction movies that are sensible, interesting, well-written and nicely filmed.
The film centers on the struggle of Gwen Koh, a single mother, to provide stability and opportunities for her daughter, Jules, in a world where that is increasingly difficult. Gwen is seemingly at a high point in her career when she’s informed that she’s just too old to be the spokesperson for a company whose newest product is a radical anti-aging “treatment” where people literally just get a new, younger body to replace their old one. Advantageous deals with Gwen’s struggle to find other ways to support herself and her daughter, her eventual choice to switch bodies in order to keep her job, and how that decision affects her life.
Advantageous is a movie about compromise–both the ways in which Gwen chooses to compromise and the ways in which she is forced to compromise herself. It’s a movie about the backlash to feminism and women’s liberation and the pressures that women face because of that backlash. It’s a movie about transformation and growth and rebirth. It’s a movie that examines the ways in which women contribute to their own oppression and how we come to terms with that for ourselves and our daughters. It’s about capitalism and inequality and how unlikely it is that we’re actually building anything like a better future.
It’s a melancholy movie, but it’s also hopeful, though not naively so. I felt at the end that the hope was not so much that whatever comes in the future will be good but that whatever comes in the future we will be able to endure and heal and find enough love and joy to (mostly) keep us going. Also, there are flying cars.