“Advantageous”, directed by Jennifer Phang, from a script by Jacqueline Kim and the director, is a provocative but ultimately confused dystopian satire, from 2015, about how women will face challenges in a future society where the economy is deeply committed to artificial intelligence. Co-writer Kim also played the lead role, Gwen.
Those challenges, however, are way too familiar to audiences who follow high-minded soap operas. Gwen, an attractive single mother in her forties, is a popular commentator on a major cyber network. But it’s a struggle to raise her twelve-year old daughter on her salary. Her supervisor, Fisher, agrees with her that she’s underpaid, but it’s not his call. In fact, he summons her in to inform her, sadly, that she has “aged out” of her demographic, and must be let go. Panicking, Gwen invents a wild solution: she’ll be the company’s first research subject of body transfer with a younger woman’s body. With her new, fresh persona, she’ll be able to keep her job, and her demographic, at the same time.
With some trepidations, the company goes along with it; naturally, everyone is disappointed, especially Gwen. Except, we don’t see the disappointment from the same vantage point. Since Gwen has been “transferred” into another person’s body, we are shown how another, younger actress performs the same character. Nevertheless, the film ends with an admirable lack of melodrama. What is implied, with oblique softness, is a sad, vaguely hostile relationship between Gwen and her confused, increasingly distant daughter.
Many interesting themes are touched upon, but none developed in a satisfying way. Body transfer, at least in movie terms, has been around since at least the ’60s; John Frankenheimer’s “Seconds”, with Rock Hudson, is one of the better treatments. This one is curiously flat. Some kind of “Westworld” future is implied, with holographic avatars popping in and out, and rather dumb facsimiles of flying cars. But a firmer director’s hand would have helped. All of the actors, even the tweens, are well-cast and competent, but no performance breaks out with a show of real, deep emotion. The closest – and this is odd because there are only two adult males with speaking roles – is James Urbaniak, who plays her immediate supervisor, Fisher. While not a villain exactly, he clearly lacks courage because he feels pity for Gwen, but only acts to save his own ass with every decision. But he’s torn about it, and he shows it with real pain.