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.
Jennifer Fischer is the Co-Founder of Think Ten Media Group and a writer, producer and arts educator whose creative and educational work focuses on highlighting shared human experiences and on creating art experiences that cultivate empathy and understanding. She wrote her first short film, Rachel’s Fortune, in 2007. The film screened at film festivals across the country and was recognized as the Best Film for Youth at Toronto’s COMMFest. Her latest film projects, SMUGGLED and THE wHOLE, have also screened across the United States, with SMUGGLED screening internationally as well. She developed and produced both projects. SMUGGLED has been featured by NBCLatino, ABC, Univision and Fusion, and THE wHOLE premiered at the ACLU’s 50th Anniversary Human Rights Conference in New York City and has also been featured by major media outlets, such as NBCBLK and Vice News. She is currently in post-production on the short film, RACHEL’S PITCH, directed by Julia Fulmer as her “wish” project supported by Make-A-Wish South Carolina.
Fischer also writes about filmmaking and about her experiences as a mother and educator; her writing has been featured by Ms. in the Biz, The Good Men Project, No Kid Hungry, Multicultural Kid Blogs, Mama Scout, Imagination Soup and in many other online publications. Her own blog, The Good Long Road (active from 2012-2015), has been featured by Good Housekeeping, Little Pickle Press, Nomad Parents, Kid World Citizen, and Inspired By Family Magazine. She penned the essay, “The Feminist Act of Telling A Man’s Story” for the online publication Bitch Flicks in 2015. Her forthcoming novel, entitled, The Leeches, which is currently in the hands of an editor. Fischer holds a B.A. from Sarah Lawrence College and an M.A. from Harvard University in Middle Eastern Studies.