Upgraded follows art gallery assistant Ana, played with relatable charm by Camila Mendes, as she navigates ambition and romance while keeping up appearances among New York’s elite. After saving her demanding boss from embarrassment, Ana gets unexpectedly upgraded on a work trip to London. On the flight, she crosses paths with a charming stranger named William (Archie Renaux) who mistakes her for someone important.
What starts as a harmless white lie to impress William spirals as their fledgling connection deepens and Ana scrambles to maintain her fabricated identity. Complications mount further when Ana meets William’s mother Catherine (Lena Olin), an affluent art collector planning to auction a rare collection—with Ana’s firm.
At its heart, Upgraded is a classic fish-out-of-water tale. Through Ana’s eyes, we get a glimpse behind the curtain of exclusivity and privilege as she pursues her dreams. And like all good romantic comedies, zany hijinks ensue as Ana tries keeping her career aspirations and her budding workplace romance from crash landing.
Keeping Up Appearances
As an ambitious art gallery assistant, Ana longs for the day when she can open her own gallery. But for now, she’s stuck fetching coffee and enduring abuse from her boss Claire, an auction house diva with exacting standards.
Ana finally gets her big break when she impresses Claire and scores an invite assisting with a high-stakes London auction. But before she can even land at Heathrow, fate intervenes courtesy of a first class ticket upgrade.
Enter William, the dashing stranger who Ana catastrophically spills her drink on upon meeting in an airline lounge faux pas. Mortified, Ana soon finds herself engaging in friendly banter with William, who assumes she holds an executive role at the auction house. Wanting to seem impressive, Ana spontaneously goes along with the ruse.
The harmless white lie turns complicated when Ana befriends William’s mother Catherine, a prominent art collector and client of Ana’s firm. Catherine takes an instant liking to Ana, giving her access to an elite social circle. But jealously simmers from Ana’s icy coworkers plotting her downfall behind the scenes even as she struggles privately to maintain her web of lies.
As Ana’s professional opportunity intensifies, so too do her feelings for William. But the higher Ana climbs by fabricating a false version of herself, the further she actually drifts from the life—and love—she truly wants. Ultimately, Ana must risk losing everything she’s misrepresented herself to achieve before she can embrace who she authentically is.
Pursuing Dreams and Truth Through Deception
At its core, Upgraded is about going after your ambitions, no matter the cost. For Ana, her dream of owning an art gallery prompts her down a slippery slope of deception. Yet rather than condemn Ana’s ethically questionable decisions, the film explores how even good people can lose their way when obsessed with a goal.
Upgraded fits squarely within the romantic comedy genre, but with a twist. Unlike traditional rom-coms pitting love against career, the central romantic relationship takes a backseat to Ana’s professional aspirations. Upgraded inverts the formula by making Ana’s budding career the driving force, while her dynamic with William adds complication, not purpose. Their courtship unfolds rapidly, lacking the signature tension of iconic rom-com couples.
Yet Ana and William’s chemistry captivates, even as the film falters meeting genre expectations. Several side characters also shine, especially Ana’s colleagues—and obstacles—like her domineering boss Claire and ruthless co-workers. These ruthless women channel the icy antagonism of Miranda Priestly from The Devil Wears Prada. But while Upgraded certainly owes inspiration to that Anne Hathaway hit, it likewise injects themes of female empowerment.
At its heart, Upgraded is about Ana’s struggle to assert herself professionally while clinging to her integrity. Though she loses her way, she course corrects by movie’s end, realizing that deceit can never substitute for authenticity. It’s a relatable lesson told through an entertaining package. And thanks to its charismatic cast, Upgraded mostly sticks the landing, even if it occasionally stumbles on the between truth and deception.
Meet the Players
Ana anchors Upgraded with a portrayal filled with spirit and vulnerability from Camila Mendes. Though ambitious, Ana remains relatable thanks to Mendes’ grounded presence. We root for Ana even as she loses her way, with Mendes eliciting empathy for Ana’s morally questionable choices borne of desperation.
As Ana’s dashing love interest William, Archie Renaux oozes affable charm. Together Renaux and Mendes showcase effortless chemistry, though limited screen time mutes the full spark of their courtship.
The supporting cast shines brighter, especially Marisa Tomei as Ana’s larger-than-life boss, Claire. Tomei cranks the intimidation dial up to ten, fully inhabiting her tyrannical role. Yet she gradually peels back Claire’s layers to reveal hidden warmth.
As Claire’s sly assistants and Ana’s workplace nemeses, Rachel Matthews and Fola Evans-Akingbola are equally divine. They emulate Claire’s frosty cruelty while injection underlying humor.
Rounding out the principle cast is Lena Olin as Catherine, William’s philanthropic mother. Catherine becomes an unlikely ally for Ana, with Olin balancing her character’s refined air with spirited benevolence.
Though Upgraded assembles an impressive roster of talent, the spotlight remains fixed on Mendes. She continues her streak of seeking out dynamic leading lady roles, cementing her star presence. Though Upgraded marks a departure from her darker turn in Do Revenge, Mendes demonstrates range in a part navigating comedy and drama with poise. She’s matched nicely against Tomei, the pair’s scenes bristling with tension.
While Upgraded hits a few speed bumps fulfilling its rom-com promise, the committed performances elevate the material at hand. This ensemble takes the film much of the distance, even if the story rarely takes risks.
Capturing The Fantasy
Though Upgraded marks a sophomore slump for director Carlson Young after her acclaimed debut The Blazing World, she capably translates the script’s glossy wish fulfillment aesthetic. The film may lack visual panache, but competent craftsmanship keeps the story sailing smoothly.
Cinematographer Mike Stern Sterzynski lenses Upgraded as an enticing escape, capturing the grandeur of lavish locations with sweeping establishing shots. The camera caresses crown molding and chandeliers, accentuating the divide between Ana’s modest reality and the splendor she finds herself surrounded by. These visual cues remind us that Ana inhabits a fantasy, one where London dazzles like a castle rather than a real place.
The script has fun with this fish-out-of-water tension, but uneven editing occasionally disrupts flow. Peppy musical interludes and pop songs liven the mood, though more soulful scoring might have better punctuated emotional beats. Elsewhere, clipped conversations and rushed exposition muddy character dynamics.
However, production design clearly defines the disparity between Ana’s worlds, contrasting her cramped basement workstation with ballgown-filled hotel suites. Costuming likewise channels the remembering/forgetting dichotomy of Ana’s arc, transitioning her out of nondescript polish into elegant ensembles.
While execution stumbles slightly, Upgraded ultimately sticks the landing as a frothy fantasy. Even when the script loses momentum, vivacious style choices pick up the slack, ensuring escapism remains the priority.
Finding The Right Rhythm
Upgraded breezes along at a brisk clip, whisking Ana from rags to riches over a tight 100 minutes. Yet the rapid succession of events leaves little room to luxuriate in key moments. Both the central romance and Ana’s moral dilemma get shortchanged, muted before resonating.
The film nails the comedic tone from its whimsical opening meet-cute straight through to the hijinks-filled climax. Jaunty snippets of score and buoyant musical interludes amplify the laughs. Yet dramatic stakes fall comparatively flat. Ana’s redemptive arc feels rushed, with life lessons learned too hastily.
Likewise, swoon-worthy romance fizzles from lost opportunity, though Mendes and Renaux shine in their scenes together. Upgraded rushes through their flirtation and barely explores intimacy before an inevitable third act conflict tanks things. We get montages when we crave conversation.
Still, tone remains mostly bright and propulsive. It’s only in the final minutes where Upgraded shows strain, when half-baked thematic messaging creeps in about enduring consequences and self-acceptance. The film works best as a fizzy fantasy before reality encroaches. We come for the fantasy, not credibility or emotional complexity. Within those parameters, Upgraded delivers. But attempts at substance feel shoehorned into this unapologetic trifle.
Signing Off On The Fantasy
As strictly surface-level escapism, Upgraded entertains, even if it only skims the surface of its narrative promise. Uneven pacing and rushed character development hamstring bigger emotional payoffs, stunting the central romance. But fizzy energy and committed performances pick up the slack to mostly satisfy the frothy fantasy.
Upgraded clearly aims towards a very specific audience hungry for wish fulfillment. For viewers craving a glimpse inside the glamorous world of old money auctions and luxury vacations, Upgraded glittery window dressing should sufficiently distract from contrivances.
Likewise, fans of The Devil Wears Prada seeking a similar workplace wish fulfillment tale will find appeal. The cast alone warrants a watch for enthusiasts of breezy star vehicles. Anchored by a charming Mendes performance full of spirit, Upgraded glides by on her appeal and effortless chemistry with Renaux.
Yet for those seeking a romance with authentic emotional stakes, Upgraded loses steam. Ana and William’s dynamic unfolds too rapidly and superficially to fully invest viewers in love’s travails before an obligatory falling out tears them apart. We get intimations of depth, but the story stays staunchly surface.
Still, as pure escapism goes, Upgraded goes down easy. The film doesn’t aim to say much, seeming content providing temporary access to a world where dreams come true with relative ease. For audiences seeking nothing more, Upgraded more than fits the bill.
Upgraded makes for a bubbly diversion courtesy of a game cast, even if the story rarely lifts off into substantial emotional territory. It may be fast food when viewers crave a fuller meal, but glamorous escapism goes down easy.
- Charismatic lead performance from Camila Mendes
- Strong supporting cast including Marisa Tomei and Lena Olin
- Great chemistry between Mendes and Archie Renaux
- Lavish production design and aesthetics
- Brisk, energetic pacing
- Some funny comedic moments
- Underdeveloped central romance
- Emotional stakes feel low
- Main character's actions are questionable
- Messaging around truth vs lies is mixed
- Overly formulaic at times
- Could have used more character development