Some dystopian futures are wildly chaotic & packed to the gills with dirt & grime, like this year’s Fury Road, for instance. Others, like the indie sleeper Advantageous, imagine a cleaner, more tightly controlled future, where any semblance of chaos & grime are swept to the edges. There’s a lot of unrest in the world Advantageous presents as a possible tomorrow (rampant homelessness, reports of large-scale child prostitution, frequent terrorist attacks), but that aspect is relegated to the margins, mostly hidden from sight, making the calm, too-clean façade of the big city all the more nerve-racking in its artificiality. The movie’s cheaply-filmed digital photography is actually somewhat . . . advantageous in that aspect, fitting in perfectly with its sterilized, surveillance-laden atmosphere. Advantageous is a shining example of cheap sci-fi done right. It has a lot of big ideas, but limits its scope to intimate implications, focusing on the emotional turmoil of a single family instead of relying heavily on lowgrade CGI spectacle (which is only used sparingly here, when necessary in detailing a terrorist attack or an unusually voluptuous skyscraper).
The story Advantageous tells is all too appropriate for our current Recession-troubled economic climate. As the protagonist struggles with the degrading loss of a job, an overcrowded job market, a lack of professional opportunity (for aging women in particular), and the struggle to fund a worthy education for her bright, young daughter who will inevitably suffer similar circumstances, she encounters a financial back-against-the-wall position that a lot of people can undoubtedly empathize with these days. She just happens to be suffering these indignities in the future with strange & uncomfortable ways out that leave the viewer dying to know What’s Going to Happen? In order to save her family from financial ruin she’s pressured into a futuristic cosmetic operation that challenges her sense of self, the nature of her loyalty to her daughter, and the very nature of the human soul as a physically tangible & transferable property.
Advantageous is, admittedly, much more satisfying in its world-building than in the would-be rug-pull of its conclusion. Even the most casual observers of dystopian sci-fi will expect the film’s threatened cosmetic operation to be both inevitable & inevitably doomed to failure, but that’s not what makes the movie special. It’s the detail & circumstances of the world surrounding the operation that distinguish it. Precocious children, classical music, impossible skyscrapers, casually-observed terrorism, the homeless, The Elite, a catty little minx of a surveillance state operator named Drake: these are the details likely to stick with you, not the unavoidable fallout of the climactic act. Much more restrained than the similarly-minded, but infinitely goofier The Congress (which I loved much more deeply, because I have a general inclination towards lack of restraint), Advantageous is a well-executed, small-scale sci-fi slow burner that may not have a lot tricks up its sleeve narratively speaking, but does have a lot of insight into how cold the world can be for a single mother struggling to get by in the face of professional, financial, and political turmoil. Even if it doesn’t surprise you in its third act, you can at least bet that its reflection & exaggeration of our current cultural climate will touch you with an uncomfortable pang of recognition, which is always a great sign in the context of the dystopian genre.