Just like at Christmas and Halloween, Valentine’s Day is a time for the streamers to stuff our faces with new offerings that apply to the holiday in question. Except instead of getting slasher movies and variations on A Christmas Carol, we get romantic comedies. In all three instances, only one out of every handful is worth your time, and Amazon’s most high-profile 2024 addition in that regard, Carlson Young’s Upgraded, is not that one in every handful.


But boy does it sure follow every step in the romantic comedy playbook to try to get us there. It casts an appealing you ingenue with a lot of upside. It gives her a meet cute with a handsome guy. It gives her a best friend and a sister and a job in which bitchier women – yes, that old chestnut – try to cut her down to size, which is silly because she is modest, and only has a chance to upstage them because they are terrible and she is not. And even in these more progressive times in which the lives of women are not defined by their ability to land a guy – though apparently still defined by their ability to be bitchy – you better bet she’s going to end up with that guy in the end.

Ana Santos (Camila Mendes) is trying to make it in a prestigious New York auction house, but is currently on the lowest rung of the ladder. In fact, the rung is so low that she’s living with her sister and her sister’s husband in their one-room apartment, and the only reason she gets noticed by her impressive and challenging boss Claire (Marisa Tomei) is because she has acquired an unsightly black smudge on the side of the white blouse she’s wearing to an important auction. Fortunately, she’s about to get noticed for something more positive. Ana detects a typo in the auction catalogue and gets it to the auctioneer before some billionaire has a chance to spend the incorrect amount of millions of dollars on one of the paintings.

The face-saving move earns her a promotion of sorts, that she’s about to fumble into a much bigger promotion. Claire books a trip to London and needs a third assistant along, asking Ana to support her first two assistants (the aforementioned mean girls, played by Rachel Matthews and Fola Evans-Akingbola). The mean girls have booked Ana the worst possible seat on a different flight – you know, because they like being mean for sport – but a kindly booking clerk sees Ana being hard done by at the hands of these woman, and upgrades Ana to first class on the flight leaving four hours later. Naturally, on this flight she is seated next to the handsome man referenced earlier, William (Archie Renaux), who is, of course, the guy she just spilt a Bloody Mary on in the airport’s first class lounge. He misinterprets something she says, thinking she has said she is the director of the auction house, and Ana doesn’t correct him, in a trait common to every movie character involved in a misunderstanding throughout the history of time.

If there’s a clear template for Upgraded, other than every other romantic comedy ever made, it’s The Devil Wears Prada, with the auctioning of fine art replacing the haute couture fashion industry. But there’s an obvious difference. Although both films try to make career achievement the primary goal of the protagonist, in this one she’s also got to meet cute with a British hunk, whereas the Prada character’s love interest was her boyfriend from the start. I suppose The Devil Wears Prada would not make a very good Valentine’s Day movie, but then again, neither does Upgraded. The budding romance between Ana and William falls somewhere between foregrounded and backgrounded, making it too prominent for anyone looking for a career empowerment movie and too insignificant for someone who wants to curl up on the couch with the trappings of a typical romantic comedy. By trying to have it both ways, Upgraded has it neither.


The comedy part is also lacking. One would feel a decent sense of optimism with a comedy vet like Marisa Tomei in a prominent role, and she’s part of an older set that also includes Lena Olin as William’s mother (and owner of a valuable art collection) and Buffy’s Anthony Head as a gay painter who faked his own death to increase the value of his work. (Which doesn’t prevent him from socialising in society like any other living person, perhaps even more so.) None of these three help the younger set, who are certainly incapable of getting laughs on their own. Tomei is using an unplaceable accent, which may inhibit her performance a bit, and Olin is like a manic pixie dream benefactor, the socialite who instantly falls for Ana and is going to bail her out of even her dumbest transgressions.

The faithful adherence to structure is so diagrammatic that when a conflict inevitably arises between William and Ana, it does so awkwardly and simply because it is time in the narrative for that to happen. That’s right, it’s not even the obvious reveal that she’s been lying that causes this conflict, because the movie isn’t ready to spring that one on us yet. It’s some other trumped-up argument in which the characters must make ridiculous logical leaps and say things that don’t grow out of their previous interactions in any way, shape or form. It’s all that this sort of movie needs, so it’s all this sort of movie gives us – at least that would be the thinking by the trio of screenwriters, if they were cynical and if they did indeed give it any thought at all.


There’s enough collective charm in the cast to prevent Upgraded from being unappealing. But not being unappealing is not enough to recommend a movie, especially at Valentine’s Day, when appeal is the main currency alongside chocolates and roses.


Upgraded is currently playing on Amazon Prime.

4 / 10