From the trailer alone, it’s clear that Camila Mendes’ new romcom, Upgraded, is basically a Gen-Z play on The Devil Wears Prada. In place of Anne Hathaway’s put-upon fashion assistant, Andy, this Amazon Prime Video offering casts Mendes as a beleaguered aspiring gallery owner named Ana—who also works as an assistant to a mercurial boss in the hopes of securing her coveted recommendation. Marisa Tomei puts on a strange, vaguely European accent to play our new boss from hell, Claire Dupont, and from there, it’s off to the races.
As familiar as each and every beat in Upgraded might be, Mendes remains as charming as ever. When she gets upgraded to first class on a business trip with her abusive bosses and pockets the little glass salt and pepper shakers for no real reason at all, the mischievous grin on her face will instantly make you want to be her friend. It’s no wonder that her neighbor on the flight, a wealthy Brit boy named William (Archie Renaux), is instantly enamored—even after she spills a Bloody Mary down his cream-colored suede slacks.
Upgraded knows what it has in its marquee trio of performers, and director Carlson Young makes the most of all three of them. Mendes’ talent for wry, knowing humor—perfected in comedies like Netflix’s Do Revenge and through years of playing Veronica Lodge on Riverdale—pays dividends. Ana weathers ceaseless insults from her uncultured brother-in-law, on top of her boss’s ridiculous temper, and with each passing eye-roll, she becomes all the more relatable. As if Claire’s eccentricities weren’t enough, Ana’s also constantly taking shit from the assistants above her—both of whom love to make fun of her poverty and to remind her that she’ll never get their jobs.
Tomei, meanwhile, is clearly having a blast playing a sadistic boss who punishes even the most minor mistake with public humiliation. (In one excellent scene, she forces one poor, unfortunate soul to sip champagne before she inevitably fires him, all for making one small mistake in an auction catalog.) With every twitch of her face, you can see the barely contained fury that fuels this woman and her petty rivalries. And then, there’s Renaux, who plays the perfect heartthrob—a charismatic, well-mannered boy who loves to watch Audrey Hepburn movies and also coaches a children’s soccer team. (Sorry—that would be football where he’s from.) If you fell for him in Netflix’s Shadow and Bone, this movie might just do you in.
Unlike The Devil Wears Prada, there’s also a little intrigue afoot here. You see, when Ana meets William on the plane, she can’t help but play along when he assumes that she herself is the New York director of Erwin’s auction house. Sure, that’s actually Claire’s job, but why correct him when they’re only on this flight for a few short hours? Of course, this airborne flirtation manages to carry over after the two land, which puts Ana in a sticky spot as William introduces her to his mother—who, wouldn’t you know, just happens to have a very valuable art collection to sell.
With its 104-minute runtime, Upgraded breezes along as quickly as a short nonstop flight. Much like an airline snack, however, its greatest drawback might be leaving its viewers a little hungry for more. More often than not, I wished we could’ve dug a little deeper into these compulsive characters to find out what makes them tick: Why is Ana so driven that she’s willing to keep impersonating her boss to fast track her success, even if it means likely losing her job? How the hell did Claire Dupont transform herself from a midwestern nobody into a leader of the art world, and when did she start faking that accent? Perhaps unsurprisingly, this film also tends to undercut its own stakes, solving Ana’s problems for her only moments after they arise. Consequences tend to be limited, and in the end, her triumph feels more like unbelievable wish fulfillment than a hard-earned success story.
At the same time, the cinematography here sells the fantastical setting short; it’s all solid enough, but the straightforward shooting style is also so economical as to remind us that we’re watching a streaming movie, rather than something designed to hypnotize us all on the big screen. (Viewers looking for Devil Wears Prada parallels will find no equivalent to the movie’s unforgettable outfit montage here.) For a movie set in the art world, the lack of visual flair in Upgraded feels like a missed opportunity—especially when held up against the genuinely great performances that hold it all together.
Overall, however, these issues might be a little irrelevant. Upgraded seems more interested in being a fun yarn than a deep character study, and as underwhelming as its visuals might be, the magnetic performances are lively enough to draw viewers in and hold their attention. If nothing else, the entire film is a testament to Mendes’s undeniable star power. With any luck, she’ll be booking many more first-class roles where this one came from.