Harper Watched: Advantageous

Harper Watched is a recurring series where I talk about entertainment media I've seen and review it for you. From movies to musicals, TV to live theater, I cover it all and lay it out for you right here.

Today I'm talking about a movie that is a rarity not only in terms of story, but in terms of who created it. Advantageous is a sci-fi film written and lead by two Asian American women. Jennifer Phang teamed up with her lead actress Jacqueline Kim to write this expansion on a short film they had done together. You can watch Advantageous on Netflix.

Advantageous is the story of a single mother working toward a bright future for her daughter. The problem is, that in this future, while science and technology have progressed, women have moved backwards. This dystopia is built on a society where small-scale terror attacks are the norm, resources are dwindling, and breaking into the elite is seemingly the only way to build a better future. Societally it was deemed better for men to get the remaining jobs out there, since women are less likely to riot, and thus, the competition for girls to be better prepared, more talented, and more beautiful has become more difficult than ever. The stress this puts on women is apparently even breaking down their ability to reproduce, with pre-pubescent girls worrying about the state of their ova. But this movie is not about the dwindling fertility in young girls. It's the story of a mother and a daughter, and a mother's sacrifice for her child in a world that has pit itself against her.

The Story

Gwen Koh (played by the aforementioned Jacqueline Kim) is a single mother raising a daughter named Jules. Gwen works at a prestigious medical spa-- where technology, medicine, and lifestyle collide. She is their spokesperson, and is hoping to get a raise so that Jules can get into the right prep school, and ultimately achieve a happy life, in a world where young girls are going homeless, and even turn to prostitution at alarming rates. Jules is, by all standards, a very gifted child-- but there is no shortage of competition, and the sheer volume of need and the scarcity of resources makes things difficult, even for a smart girl like her.

Instead of getting a raise, Gwen is told that she is being fired, and will be replaced by a younger, more universally appealing spokesperson. That is, unless she agrees to try their new experimental procedure, through which she would become both expert and living testimonial for the Center's services-- by transferring herself into a new body.

This film is less about the science, or the effects, and more about this woman. All that she is, not just her motherhood, but especially her motherhood, as she undergoes a radical procedure for the sake of her child.

Getting Down To Business

This storytelling is a bit more subtle than other movies in the sci-fi vein. Most segments that capture the serious plights on society are short, and seem almost surreal due to the main characters' relative separation from the more desperate levels of society. The detachment from certain events like an airship crashing into a building somewhat resembles America's own detachment from certain issues like the gun violence problem-- as these attacks become more frequent, it becomes easier to react as though they are matters-of-fact in society. Because of this, certain details need to be paid attention in order to catch the gravity of the moment.

That said, this film is worth having that active attention process going during. It's beautifully told and really speaks to that mother-child/mother-daughter bond, and I think it is especially potent for those of us who are the children of immigrants, or are otherwise POC because we know exactly how much has been sacrificed for us and how terribly the odds were stacked against our parents and us, even though we may have been completely unaware in childhood.

I love how the mother is portrayed as at once both incredibly talented and smart, and also incredibly flawed and vulnerable. She is no angel, nor is she a villain, and I think women, especially mother-figures are depicted as one or the other. They are rarely allowed to be complicated people. This film does that in a way that is very authentic (if not a little far-fetched).

Some people may find the daughter's character to be too intellectual-- maybe overwhelmingly so. I don't think that that's a fair assessment given the fact that A- yes, the daughter is highly talented but also B- the level at which these children are educated and the ferocity of the competition they are thrust into.

This world, for all its beauty and comfort and high tech amenities is still one that is near hopeless in every sense. With the state of women and girls losing fertility at astounding rates, it seems that the entire human race is doomed. And yet one mother is determined to do everything she can to give her daughter a better life.

This movie is excellent and I highly recommend it. You'll want to call your mom (or mother figure) after.

Harper's Rating: 5/5

Great portrayal of women
Creative dystopia-- it's different from any other imagining I've seen, and has a rich cultural tapestry
Asian American women at the helm-- so rare and so important
Great acting, holy moly
Visual direction is on point, both for the mundane bits, as well as the special effects
Has a subtle-ish, slow-moving pace-- not an action adventure
This is not a movie you should be doing other things during-- sorry multitaskers
Conversations can be hard to follow if you're not paying attention
You'll probably cry


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