• 24 Feb - 01 Mar, 2024
  • Mag The Weekly
  • Reviews

A terrific rom-com premise is mostly wasted in director Carlson Young’s Upgraded, starring Camila Mendes and Archie Renaux as two strangers who bump into each other on a transatlantic flight. The movie falls back on tried-and-tested genre tropes for almost the entire duration of its 90-minute run-time, although it’s up for debate if it wants to rewrite the rulebook at all. The result is something that, despite the foreign setting and intermittently enjoyable shenanigans, feels all too familiar.
Mendes plays Ana, a young intern at a coveted art gallery, who is sent to shadow her demanding boss on a trip to London. Ana is crashing on her sister’s couch, her art history degree hilariously compared by her brother-in-law to his ‘masters in kung-fu movies’ – which is to say that it’s just as worthless. But despite her lack of options, Ana is an ambitious young woman. In many ways, she’s like Anne Hathaway’s character in The Devil Wears Prada.
And often, Upgraded appears to draw from that rom-com classic quite liberally. There is no greater similarity between the two films, for instance, than the characterisation of Ana’s boss. Clearly modelled on Miranda Priestly, who was played so memorably by Meryl Streep in that film, Ana’s boss in Upgraded is an equally haughty middle-aged woman named Claire Dupont. She’s played by Marisa Tomei, who gives her a vague Eastern European accent and a formidable reputation. The rumour around the office, however, is that Claire is actually from Wisconsin.
Either way, she’s a tough cookie. She barks orders at her minions, doesn’t tolerate incompetence, but takes notice of Ana after she displays her keen observation skills during a high-stakes auction. Impressed, Claire commands her to join her and her two mean girl assistants on the Europe trip, where she intends to close a major deal. Out of spite, the assistants book Ana on a different flight. But in a fortunate turn of events at the airport – the lady behind the counter takes pity on her – Ana is upgraded to first class, and this is where she runs into the charming William.
He mistakes her for Claire, and Ana goes along with the confusion, opening the door for some classic mistaken identity humour that very quickly outstays its welcome. Upgraded is quite enjoyable during this first act. Mendes makes for a charming heroine, and Ana is easy to root for. But there’s barely any spark between her and Renaux, and for a movie that fully leans into the will-they-won’t-they trope, the love story is the least engaging thing about it.
What does it say about a romantic comedy when you’re more invested in the protagonist’s career than their personal life? It’s like wanting Tom from 500 Days of Summer to succeed as a greeting card writer and forget all about pursuing Summer. The problem with Upgraded is that they didn’t put nearly enough effort into fleshing the story out.
The writing is plain and the filmmaking occasionally very ordinary. Even though they’ve clearly shot a lot of this film in England, which is more than what can be said for most films these days, Upgraded also includes a couple of shots so poorly framed that a weatherman could theoretically replicate them in his studio. A part of the reason why romantic comedies from a decade ago were so widely appreciated is because the filmmaking was solid. But over the years, the genre has hurt its own reputation by routinely knocking out instantly forgettable ‘content’ like this. Not for one second while watching Upgraded do you feel that it’s something that absolutely had to be made. And at a time when romantic comedies are witnessing an actual return-to-form in theatres, Upgraded is ironically sending the genre back to economy class.