' ' Cinema Romantico: Upgraded

Monday, May 06, 2024


The title of Carlson Young’s Amazon Prime rom com literally refers to its aspirant art dealer Ana (Camila Mendes) being upgraded from lowly coach to highfalutin first-class on a flight for a London work trip. Figuratively, though, this upgrade evokes how in the course of the flight she also manages to upgrade her life, telling her handsome fellow first-class passenger William (Archine Renaux) with whom she meets cute that she’s a director rather than mere intern at the renowned New York auction house where she works. Given his mother Catherine (Lena Olin) is an affluent art collector, this unexpected connection causes Ana’s her nascent career to skyrocket in just a few days even as her ruse threatens to cause her nascent career to come crashing down. The studious website Wikipedia deems “Upgraded” a modern retelling of the classic Cinderella story, which, sure, I guess, though given Ana’s deception and her demanding boss Claire (Marisa Tomei), it comes across more like a melding of “The Secret of My Success” (1987) and “The Devil Wears Prada” (2006). The former was a Michael J. Fox 80s comedy that glossed over its own ruthlessness, and though sometimes “Upgraded” does not feel entirely clued in to its own innate critique, that critique becomes visible, nonetheless. 

Ana loves art, as the opening sequence in which she describes the dualities of a Hilma af Clint reprint on her wall evokes, but she is stuck trying to find some way to make an impression on Claire who does not receive such impressions easily. The character of Claire is clearly channeling Meryl Streep channeling Anna Wintour, but Tomei effectively creates her own brand of hauteur, nevertheless. Sizing up her charges in her introductory scene, each double take and observation side-splitting, and Tomei has adopted some sort of French accent that jibes with her last name yet sounds almost Lady Edith Greensly-like, a possible put-on that “Upgraded” never resolves yet informs the movie’s overriding sense of faking it ’til you make it. Ana catches her break by correcting a mistake in the middle of an auction, winning Claire’s approval and the trip to London, though hanging a hapless young colleague out to dry. Mendes plays this with nary a hint of regret, and the movie would have been wise to latch on to that trait rather than the script talking up her character’s insecurity which ultimately comes through less than her ambition. It would have been almost cutthroat, but the movie softens that edge, never daring to push Ana too far toward unlikable.

The most significant issue, however, is that Mendes and Renaux do not have chemistry comparable to Mendes and Olin. And yet, if that causes all the scenes between Ana and William to fall flat, those between Ana and Catherine still sing, a little like a mother and a daughter, or maybe more like a protégé and a mentor, or perhaps more in the vein of two women helping out one another rather than trying to tear one another down, the yang to the yin. And even when Ana’s ruse is mandatorily uncovered, it might make William mad, but not Catherine, respecting the player, if not also the game, epitomizing a movie that essentially argues meritocracy is for suckers with a something like a “Hey, how about that?” smile on its face.

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