Review: Harmless Workplace RomCom Upgraded Isn’t Exactly First Class Fare
Certainly better than I was expected from what is essentially a rom-com with slightly more emphasis than normal on the profession of the female lead, Upgraded tells the tale of Ana (Camila Mendes, Riverdale), an ambitious trainee at an auction house, dreaming of a day when she owns her own art gallery after years of toiling on the periphery of the art world and working for her demanding boss Claire (Marisa Tomei, with a weird accent that is never explained). After saving Claire's ass during an important auction, she is elevated to third assistant to her boss on a trip to London to manage the sale of the sizable art collection of a confidential client. Thanks to a sympathetic gate agent at the airport, Ana is upgraded to first class and finds herself sitting next to William (Archie Renaux), who mistakingly assumes Ana is the head of the New York office of the auction house, and Ana just rolls with it. But it’s a lie that sparks of series of events, both good and bad, and the film basically becomes a waiting game for these lies to be discovered.
When they get to London, Ana meets William's famous-actress mother Catharine (Lena Olin), who immediately takes a liking to Ana and reveals that she, in fact, is the mysterious client with the large, quite valuable art collection. As a result of this secret connection, Ana is actually able to assist Claire in ways that her first and second assistants cannot, making her Claire’s favorite person. With the head of the auction house (Thomas Kretschmann) set to retire soon, a good showing at this particular auction would put Claire in line to succeed him. But Ana’s lies also threaten to screw up the deal entirely in ways she never could have anticipated, and so the drama begins.
Actress-turned-director Carlson Young (The Blazing World) actually seems to care more about Ana’s success at her job and her achieving her dreams than the potential romance between her and William, and I found that remarkable and refreshing. Claire is a tough boss, for certain, but Tomei doesn’t play her as a cartoonish dictator (although her assistants are certainly less believable, as they seemed determined to ruin Ana’s chances at any level of success for no reason). The best scenes in the film involve Olin’s Catherine, who pretends to live a life of excess (thus the need to sell her late husband’s art collection), but is actually a shrewd businesswoman. I also love that she seems to spend all her time with her gay best friend, Julian (Anthony Head), and the two are constantly topping each other with quips and keen observations about those around them.
The ending of the film wraps up ridiculously so fast and neat, it made my head spin to the point where I thought I missed a scene or two. The message of the film, I guess, is that lying doesn’t always lead to bad things, and that if it’s done in service of making your dreams come true, it’s fine. I’m not sure that’s the best moral to be putting out there, but I actually found Ungraded a mostly harmless, watchable workplace fairy tale.
The film is now streaming on Prime Video.
Did you enjoy this post? Please consider supporting Third Coast Review’s arts and culture coverage by making a donation. Choose the amount that works best for you, and know how much we appreciate your support!
Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a frequent contributor at /Film (SlashFilm.com) and Backstory Magazine. He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.