The first time I watched The Devil Wears Prada, I related to Andy’s struggles as a twenty-something nobody who aspired to be a writer but ended up in a job where she was essentially being bullied for her lack of personal style. It was a film that discussed fashion as an art and exposed the flawed standards of femininity; it had something to say. Anybody who has ever scrambled in their twenties to build a path for themselves — whether you’ve failed or succeeded – can certainly relate to that. And it’s my love for that classic that made me curious about the Amazon Prime Video movie Upgraded.
The film, directed by Carlson Young, tells the story of twenty-something Ana Santos, played by the brilliant Camila Mendes, a broke auction gallery intern living in New York City with her sister Vivian (Aimee Carrero) and brother-in-law and trying to figure out how to open her own gallery and pay off her student debt. Ana, like Andy, feels like her time to make her dreams into reality is running out and is juggling a lot at once. Meanwhile, her boss Claire Dupont (Marisa Tomei), also reminiscent of Meryl Streep’s Miranda Priestly, is intimidating, demanding, and a perfectionist who insists everyone shows up to work in a perfectly pristine outfit.
When Ana provides a correction of an essential item in an auction catalog during a high-pressure event at work, Claire notices. To the chagrin of Claire’s assistants, Ana is invited on a work trip to London as her boss’s third assistant. At the airport on the way to London, Ana is upgraded to first class, where she meets the handsome and charming aristocrat Will (Archie Renaux), who assumes Ana is the director of the auction gallery she works for. Just for fun, Ana doesn’t correct Will’s assumption, imagining that she will never speak to him again after the flight.
Instead, Ana starts building a web of lies to keep seeing Will and avoiding telling the truth: that she’s just a broke intern with no power or influence. This is difficult to understand given the lack of chemistry between the couple we are supposed to be rooting for. Perhaps Ana wanted to feel like she is at the same level of power as Will, who is an obscenely wealthy man, so she kept lying to measure up to him. Perhaps she wants his approval because she feels like such a nobody. Perhaps his attention made her forget the fact that she’s a twenty-something intern with no prospects. But all of this is speculation; I’m just trying to fill the gaps of a script that had no heart. In truth, the leads really don’t seem to like each other beyond being cast as a couple and reading lines off a script that, to me, didn’t land at all. There was no tension building, no unstoppable attraction between two bodies, and no romance an audience wants to root for, just two conventionally hot actors cast as a couple.
More than the romance (or lack thereof), as an art major with two higher education degrees and no paying job living with her sister, Ana had the potential to be a very relatable character, particularly if the script had leaned onto Mendes’ Latine heritage and the struggles a Latina working woman in New York City might run into. Workplace issues and paying off debt are rich terrains for narrative exploration when it comes to young Latina women’s stories — many of us could probably relate.
But the most painful part of Upgraded — as usual with straight-to-streaming-movies — is that it has absolutely nothing to say about anything. The themes of the movie — working women, the elitism of the art world, a boss who is a perfectionist micromanager, the gap between Ana and British aristocracy — aren’t really explored or exposed. Where The Devil Wears Prada’s Miranda Priestly’s perfectionism is revealed as a façade for a woman who wasn’t perfect at all, who had deep flaws that Andy exposed, Claire Dupont’s character fails on multiple fronts, starting with her choppy wig and weird, fetishistic French accent and ending with the lack of relevance of her character for the story.
While writing this column, straight-to-streaming movies with no heart have been a common recurrence. I don’t pretend to have insight on how the production processes happen within studios and streaming services, but it’s like studio executives invest in the most boring and generic content, without much attention to quality or engagement, just to get streamable plays out there as quickly as possible. It’s clear that the companies that make these films want them to be as iconic as the classics we already know and love, but they consistently fall short. After the writers’ strike, where streaming services were exposed for eroding labor rights, job security and residual payments, I can’t help but wonder whether these dull straight-to-streaming films and TV shows have something to do with the current model of business where writers, actors, and directors are being burned out by a fast-paced, low-paying system. It often feels like it doesn’t matter whether these films are good or bad — as long as people stream them, that’s good enough.
I don’t enjoy writing bad reviews, especially when a talented Latina actress Like Mendes is involved, an actress whose identity as a Brazilian American could have added so much to the story, and an actress who has the skill and passion to take on characters who stand for something and deliver a message. I want stories that center Latinas to say something, to be engaging, to be good. Upgraded felt stale, generic, and uncreative, and as a Brazilian-Colombian critic, that hurts.
Regional Diversity: C
There’s barely any mention of Ana’s Latine identity. The only reason I’m scoring it a C is because I know Mendes attempted to make her character Brazilian American by changing her surname to Santos, with an “s” instead of a “z” at the end, and we rarely get to see Brazilian Americans play Brazilian Americans in film and TV. Also, it was nice to see a Latina as a main character in the American-goes-to-Europe romance trope.
There was no code switching or language switching, which I think is okay, but it would have been nice to hear the character speak Portuguese.
There’s no racial diversity among the Latine characters. In fact, Ana’s ethnic identity is only mentioned in passing, and never again. We actually don’t know what her cultural background is, only that Mendes attempted to make her Brazilian American. It doesn’t factor into her story at all. It feels like a lazy attempt at inclusion.
Stereotypes & Tropes: D
While it didn’t lean on any Latina stereotypes, this film was actually full of other stereotypes — the evil perfectionist boss, the broke art major, the clumsy female rom-com character — but it didn’t subvert a single one of them.
Was it Actually Good? D
I unfortunately really didn’t enjoy the film. The script wasn’t good, so the actors did what they could, and there wasn’t much chemistry between the leads.
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