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Upgraded Review: High Society Prime Rom-Com

Ana (Camila Mendes) and William (Archie Renaux) flirt while sitting at a table in Prime Video rom-com Upgraded

In charming Prime rom-com Upgraded, Camila Mendes displays movie star chops as a young intern mistaken for her boss.

When Ana Santos (Camila Mendes) opens the banking app at the beginning of Prime Video’s Upgraded, she finds only $124.06 in her account. She sleeps on a futon in her sister and sister’s fiancé’s New York apartment, and they are constantly throwing hints that Ana should return home to Florida. While Ana has an MFA in Art History and an internship at a top art auction house, she is struggling to make any headway in her career, and is relegated to helping to set up and hand out catalogs for auctions.

That is until one day, through a fluke, Ana has the opportunity to catch the eye of her demanding boss (Marisa Tomei). Through this piece of serendipity, she is invited along as an assistant on a work trip to London and jumps at the chance to distinguish herself. By chance, Ana is upgraded to first class on her flight to London. When handsome fellow passenger William (Archie Renaux) strikes up a flirtation, well, it’s only natural that Ana indulges her dreams by spinning a tall tale about her success as the director of Erwin’s Auction House New York branch. 

The plot of a romantic comedy is frequently predicated on a lie: think While You Were Sleeping or How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days. What makes Upgraded, the new rom-com directed by Carlson Young, feel fresh and charming is the way that recognizable tropes are played with like toys on a playground, the sensitivity and feeling with which the characters are written, and the screwball comic touch of the performances.

In Upgraded, as Ana’s web of deceit gets larger and larger, the lies feel different than the self-serving ones that a Kate Hudson or a Drew Barrymore may have told in the films listed above. The writers of Upgraded, Christine Lenig, Justin Matthews and Luke Spencer Roberts, don’t use lies only for comic effect, with an eye toward setting up the most outrageous comic set piece, but to reveal the character of Ana and tell the audience about her. Underneath the fantastical trappings, there’s a humanity with which Upgraded was written, a truth in the way that it captures the feelings of frustration in struggling through a low-rung job and dreaming of more. I am willing to bet that the lies told by Ana are similar to ones told by all of us, though perhaps to a less heightened effect. 

A close up of Ana (Camila Mendes) in Prime Video rom-com Upgraded
Camila Mendes stars as ‘Ana Santos’ in Upgraded (Prime Video / Amazon MGM Studios)

The romantic comedy is a personality forward genre, and Upgraded is ably led by a luminous Camila Mendes. She has an open face, a sunny warmth that makes you root for her, and a Meg Ryan-like ability to keep the audience on her side no matter how kooky her character’s leaps in logic. Giving a performance this light takes a great amount of skill and craft, and Mendes demonstrates an innate understanding of the style needed for the material. 

As Mendes’s romantic partner, Renaux gives a bland, blank performance in a character that mainly calls for him to be handsome. Mendes and Renaux do not have chemistry, but not to an offensive degree. To be fair to them, the romance is a garnish decorating the main course of Upgraded, which are the relationships that Mendes develops with her demanding, icy boss, played by an Edna Mode-accented, scenery chewing Tomei, and Renaux’s elegant celebrity mother, played by Lena Olin, whose art collection is being sold by Ana’s auction house. The two women provide a model for the person Ana could develop into, and the scenes that Mendes shares with Tomei or Olin have a warmth and depth of emotion underneath even the silliest joke. 

The actors in Upgraded, from Mendes to Anthony Head as an artist who faked his death to sell more paintings, walk across the screen with a bright good nature that sells the reality of the ridiculous situations. Not every joke works, many are groan-inducingly broad, but the actors have the zany screwball comedy touch needed to sell that. Behind the camera, Young keeps the energy high and zippy, all while keeping the flights into real emotion from feeling mawkish. 

Upgraded is the sort of fantasy that one turns to fiction for, that allows for comfort and escape. It’s a story about the dream of being able to get a peak behind the elegant curtains of high society, as well as having our hard work, intelligence, and ambition rewarded. And as befitting such a fairy tale, Upgraded is cheerful, silly, and as frothy as a glass of pink champagne.

Upgraded is now available to watch on Prime Video.

Upgraded: Trailer (Prime Video)
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