Upgraded: Review. By Joe Muldoon.
Another addition to Prime’s ever-growing collection of romcoms, Upgraded is a delightful little romp through London and young love. At a time when many viewers have been lamenting the perceived decline in noughties-style romcoms, rising star Carlson Young brings us a most welcomed hit in Upgraded – eagle-eyed viewers may spot the director in a blink-and-you-miss it cameo during the opening credits. Starring in the lead role is Camila Mendes, fresh off the back of the long-running series Riverdale. After the fantastic 2022 Netflix revenge comedy Do Revenge, Mendes is clearly finding her stride in quirky youth comedies.
Not a million miles away from the life of Andy Sachs in The Devil Wears Prada, Ana Santos (Mendes) is an ambitious intern for Erwins, a high-class New York art auction house. Helming the highly esteemed institution is Claire (Marisa Tomei), Ana’s comedically curt boss, and whose insufferably unpleasant assistant drones Suzette (Rachel Matthews, also of Do Revenge repute) and Renee (Fola Evans-Akingbola) seem determined to make Ana’s work life as uncomfortable as possible.
After being unexpectedly roped into a last-minute work trip to London, the eager-to-please Ana finds herself in the prime position to impress the intimidating Claire and earn herself a glowing reference so she’ll be able to open her own art gallery in future. At the airport, she learns that Claire’s callous assistants deliberately booked her in the most uncomfortable seat possible in a later flight. Having been witness to the way in which she was treated, the understanding airport ticket agent (Juliet Agnes) upgrades Ana to First Class for free.
As interesting twists of fate have a knack of carving romcom destinies, a spilt Bloody Mary in the First Class airport lounge leads Ana towards the effortlessly charming William (Archie Renaux), who also happens to be her seat neighbour for the trip across the pond – a coincidence only possible in a story like this. A small white lie about occupying Claire’s position as director of Erwins leads her into an inescapable pit, and after meeting Will’s eccentric actress mother Catherine (Lena Olin), owner of a small collection of startlingly notable paintings, Ana finds herself resigned to her lie. And as all good lies do, this white lie predictably snowballs away at breakneck pace.
The premise of Upgraded hardly brings a great deal of new material to the table, but it’s at least serviceable enough to squeeze out a charming and genuinely fun experience.
Though the romance between Ana and Will spreads its wings fairly early on, it noticeably takes a step back, being left on the back burner as Ana’s professional ambitions take precedence. For a romcom, this may raise some eyebrows, but it somehow feels right here; the biggest success of Upgraded resides not in its story, but in its characters and their interactions.
Upgraded isn’t necessarily the best comedy to come out in recent years, but what makes it so good is that the cast members are clearly having a great time, and it rubs off throughout the viewing experience. Mendes is currently flourishing when selecting roles as clever, cool characters, her understated comedic chops being ideal for such a project as this. Perhaps the star of the show, Tomei is excellent as Claire, channelling her inner Miranda Priestley and sprinkling sass into every glance, grimace, and glower. Though also incredible in hard-hitting pictures like The Wrestler, Tomei continues to thrill in her more unserious roles, and this is Exhibit A.
And yet again showing his proficiency in comedies, Anthony Head is fabulous as Catherine’s camp comrade Julian Marx, who has falsely convinced the art world that he’s long-dead. Dipping her toes more into film, Derry’s own Saoirse-Monica Jackson holds her own rather well throughout her scant appearances, and she unintentionally puts herself forward as a very promising future candidate for more central roles in romcoms. Matthews and Evans-Akingbola are infuriatingly superb in their performances, their passive-aggressiveness leaving you grinding your teeth.
For those seeking an endearing Valentine’s Day watch, Upgraded more than deserves consideration for the occasion. Though hardly reinventing the wheel, the movie’s story and interactions come together to provide 104 minutes of low-stakes, highly entertaining viewing pleasure. If this is to be taken as a glimpse into their creative capabilities, actress-turned-director Carlson Young should be enlisted to direct more, and Camila Mendes should be regarded as one to watch.
With the unexpected runaway success of 2023’s Anyone But You and the warm reception this is currently experiencing, studios ought to take note: audiences want romance, and they want comedy. There’s an audience salivating at the prospect of more romcoms, and I’m part of it. Frankly, all that’s missing from Upgraded is an outtakes section for the closing credits. If we’re in the midst of a new romcom renaissance, it’s high time we brought back the bloopers reel.
By Joe Muldoon.
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