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‘Upgraded’ Review: Camila Mendes’ Star Power Soars in This ‘Devil Wears Prada’-Esque Rom-Com for the Art World

The treasure trove of young talent that emerged from The CW’s “Riverdale” is truly astonishing, and Camila Mendes is no exception. Her star power as both an actress in and executive producer of the immediately classic rom-com “Upgraded” takes the New York University alum to new heights.

While Mendes’ former “Riverdale” costars are flying high in their respective lanes, with Cole Sprouse stealing scenes even as a mute zombie in the Diablo Cody-penned “Lisa Frankenstein” to Charles Melton’s haunting, award-winning (yet Oscar-snubbed) performance in “May December,” Mendes has proven her own visionary chops in recent years. The star had a standout role in frothy high school dark comedy “Do Revenge” opposite Maya Hawke, and now holds her own alongside iconic actress Marisa Tomei in “Upgraded.”

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Mendes’ likability (and relatability) almost mirrors Amanda Bynes’ Hollywood reign during the “She’s the Man” and “Sydney White” days. “Upgraded” is essentially “What a Girl Wants” meets “Devil Wears Prada” with a dash of “Emily in Paris” camp. The combo makes it one of the easiest rom-coms to digest as of late.

Directed by Carlson Young from a script by Christine Lenig, Justin Matthews, and Luke Spencer Roberts, “Upgraded” centers on struggling art curator Ana Santos (Mendes) who works for the New York branch of an esteemed international auction house. Her icy boss Claire Dupont (Tomei) makes Ana even more on edge. But when Ana spots a mistake in the auction catalog, she is catapulted into being Claire’s third assistant and asked to jet off to London for an emergency meeting.

Ana is “upgraded” to first class upon arriving at the airport, and is seated next to hunky Englishman Will (Archie Renaux), who just so happens to be the son of an acclaimed actress (Lena Olin) whose connections Ana inadvertently uses to fulfill boss Claire’s outlandish requests upon arrival. There’s even two Emily Blunt-type characters a la “Devil Wears Prada,” with Rachel Matthews and Fola Evans Akingbola playing Claire’s two other assistants who are higher up than Ana.

Well, not higher up for long…

Ana (Camila Mendes) and William (Archie Renaux) in UPGRADED.
Camila Mendes and Archie Renaux in “Upgraded”Courtesy of Prime

As Ana gets swept up in Will’s elite world, she finds her footing as both a mentee to Claire and an art collector herself. Ana dreams of opening her own gallery, but when a lie she tells Will to inflate her career backfires, she just might lose it all.

Yes, “Upgraded” is billed as a rom-com and yes, Mendes and Renaux have the perfect chaste chemistry required to ground a sweet 2000s-esque film. But just like the true relationship at the center of “Devil Wears Prada” was between Miranda (Meryl Streep) and Andie (Anne Hathaway), the crux of “Upgraded” is the dynamic between Claire and Ana, and perhaps even Will’s mother too. This is a story about women supporting women, especially across generations, and that’s what makes “Upgraded” resonate more than just a frothy rom-com would.

(L - R): Ana (Camila Mendes), Suzette (Rachel Matthews), Renee (Fola Evans Akingbola), Claire (Marisa Tomei) in UPGRADED.
“Upgraded”Courtesy of Prime

Renaux is a true star — someone please get him on “Bridgerton” or something ASAP — and has dashes of Channing Tatum in “She’s the Man” energy. (Yeah, the tagline for “Upgraded” should be come for Renaux, stay for the female empowerment.) “Upgraded” does what “Emily in Paris” tries, or at least tried to achieve in Season 1, following an American expat as she revamps her career while in Europe.

At least for Mendes’ Ana, she succeeds and learns a series of lessons along the way, the first being to always have the back of those who have lifted you up. Tomei is an icon, and Mendes is cornering the rom-com market, and much like her fellow TV alums like Sydney Sweeney, producing her own films. We can’t wait to see what this actress and producer does next.

Rating: B+

“Upgraded” starts streaming on Prime Video on Friday, February 9.

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