Jennifer Phang’s stunning film opens with two voices singing in French. The effect is both haunting and inviting, like the film itself. When an image does appear on screen, we see mother and daughter, a tight close-up, just as their two voices diverge into a beautiful harmony, reflective of the life they’ve built, not perfect, but full of simple pleasures. The song ends and the two exchange a high five just before the short opening credit sequence. Now, the daughter is in full view, a young teenager, leaping through the air on a sidewalk in front of a large silver building. Her friends twirling behind her. Joy personified. Yet, we will come to see, that this mother and daughter inhabit a world in which joy is an endangered species.
The mother is Gwen Koh (played by Jacqueline Kim who co-wrote the film with Phang) and her daughter is Jules (played by Samantha Kim). Advantageous is their film, their story in which Gwen faces a difficult decision, where even the best choices come with grim consequences.
When I first watched the film, it took my breath away. I was watching something like nothing I’d seen before, which seems increasingly difficult to do in the 21st century. Phang creates a futuristic world that feels plausible. She made me realize how strong the male gaze is in dystopian films and how alienating that view can be. Advantageous is both barren and beautiful, heartbreaking and hopeful, soft and powerful. The film feels more like an experience than a piece of entertainment. Phang’s unique filmmaking style pulls you in, wraps itself around you in the way that a good book can on a rainy afternoon. I felt I could reach out and touch these characters, could sit with Gwen and Jules beside their stream, could find myself facing the same choice as a mother that Gwen faces in the film. The magic between the talented lead actresses highlights Phang and Kim’s thoughtful screenplay perfectly and speaks to Phang’s mastery as a director. Four years after its release, Advantageous feels more relevant than ever and demonstrates the value and power of new voices in cinema.