Advantageous (2015) – Reviewed by Michael Webb (@spudrph)
Directed by Jennifer Phang
Starring Jacqueline Kim, James Urbaniak, Freya Adams, Ken Jeong, Jennifer Ehle, Samantha Kim
Louis CK famously observed that “everything’s amazing, and nobody’s happy.” A universe of information is at our fingertips, more than Leonardo da Vinci learned in a lifetime, and things are more convenient than our ancestors could have dreamed. Food is generally more nutritious, plentiful, and cheap than it has ever been, and clean water is generally available everywhere in the first world, all of which would be a pipe dream for anyone living in 1815. Yet we also have raging epidemics of depression and anxiety, and everyone you know has something to complain about. When everything is so great, why aren’t we happy?
“Advantageous” takes our tech heavy culture to what seems to be a logical extrapolation, a near future where technology has taken over many human professions. Alongside soaring, opulent skyscrapers, violinists play in the park for tips, children readily sell their bodies on the street and the homeless and dispossessed hide in every nook and cranny, while occasional explosions suggest a revolution is underway to thwart this new world. Gwen is the head spokesperson of the Center for Advanced Living, a biotech firm about to bring a new technology to market, transferring consciousness from older bodies into younger ones. She is raising her gifted daughter Jules by herself, and she yearns to give Jules the very best chance to succeed in this new jobless world, which means buying her way into a private camp to prepare her for an even more exclusive school. When Gwen loses her job because her company wants a younger face selling the technology, she agrees to undergo the procedure herself, despite its dangers, to preserve her way of life.
Louis CK’s question is answered, in a sense, by Phang’s film- we arent happy, because we need not merely to be waited on, but to be needed. “Do what you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life,” the old saying goes, and millennials snort with derision. Increasingly, we have to work to avoid starving to death on the street, and actual life defining avocational work is a pipe dream. As technology once squeezed out the bank teller, will it continue to eliminate the need for people until the only people who go to work are the parcel delivery companies who bring us our Amazon orders? “Advantageous” provokes thought, is lovely and quiet, and manages to be a provocative and challenging film about the future without laser guns and car chases, exactly the kind of movie our times need but seldom get.