Directed by Patricia Riggen (Under the Same Moon) and adapted from a screenplay written by Hiram Martinez, Girl in Progress tells the story of Grace (Eva Mendes), a single mom who is too busy juggling work, bills and relationships, to give her daughter, Ansiedad (Cierra Ramirez) the attention she desperately needs. When Ansiedad's English teacher, Ms. Armstrong (Patricia Arquette), introduces her students to classic coming-of-age stories, Ansiedad is inspired to skip adolescence and jump-start her life without mom. While Grace becomes preoccupied with the increasing affections of her co-worker (Eugenio Derbez), Ansiedad enlists the help of her loyal friend, Tavita (Disney star Raini Rodriguez), to plot her shortcut to "adulthood." But as her misguided plan unravels, Ansiedad and Grace must learn that sometimes growing-up means acting your age.
Being a teenager isn't any easier than adulthood, and most parents probably wouldn't care to admit that to their teenagers, but it's something adults seem to put out of their minds as they try to cope with their own personal struggles and stresses. Girl In Progress is a film that takes a look at a mother and daughter, of Mexican heritage, who are doing their best to make it in the U.S. on their own. The thirteen-year-old girl, named Ansiedad, is feeling neglected by her mother, Grace, who got pregnant with her when she was just seventeen years old. Grace didn't have all that warm-and-fuzzy of an upbringing, and it's something she has unfortunately let trickle down into her own home as an adult. Ansiedad doesn't even know who her father is, while Grace is busier working and trying to find a man to settle down with than paying much attention to her daughter. Ansiedad, who is by nature a really good and obedient kid, is then inspired by her English teacher's lesson on "Rite of Passage" to force her own coming-of-age story into becoming an adult quicker. She then devises a plan to become good at something "nerdy," win the attention of the popular crowd, become involved in drugs and drinking, and top it all off... with losing her virginity. The end result is a bit predictable, but the journey is a difficult one to watch.
Usually coming-of-age stories aren't this deliberately forced; when you see a story about a person who finds their way after losing it first, it's usually a natural progression. Typically, we're introduced to someone who is a bit down on their luck or they just simply need to grow up and change as a person. In Girl In Progess, Ansiedad literally researches this storytelling method and forces it to happen in her own life. The audience, obviously, wants the best for this young girl who doesn't seem to have it in her to deliberately make all the wrong choices in hopes of becoming an adult sooner, so as we see ugly events unfold before our eyes, it's a really tough pill to swallow. Meanwhile, Grace is going through her own coming-of-age story as an adult at the same time. Ansiedad's self-fabricated story propels Grace's forward faster than it might have naturally happened on its own, but we find that she hasn't really matured much since becoming a teenage mother and being forced out into the world on her own when she was younger. As the film begins and Grace's story is immediately established as a single mom who is promiscuous and moves all over the country with her daughter in her pursuit of the right man, we learn that her latest hopelessly romantic endeavor is with a married doctor who is having an affair with her. There isn't much that's rose-colored about Grace and Ansiedad's lives or their relationship together, and it all makes Girl In Progress a rather heavy film.
Through the process of Ansiedad planning out her rebellious new lifestyle, quite a few serious teen topics are brought up and addressed; from teenage drinking, drug use, bullying and premarital sex, it's all covered. It's scary to watch Ansiedad glorifying all of these things as she confides in her friend Tavita while mapping out this plan--and as the viewer, you can only hope she realizes all of these things lead nowhere redeemable before she actually invites them on herself. We watch her selfishly make and destroy friendships, all while adopting shallow new ones that inevitably prove to be empty. The film does show some ugly developments, arguably the worst being when she sets out to lose her virginity at a party, and some of these moments feel a little too real for comfort. Bullying is as real as any other ugly thing kids can get into, and when a few of the "in crowd" publicly humiliate Tavita (bravely played by Paul Blart: Mall Cop's Raini Rodriguez), it sheds a little more light on just how damaging that behavior can be.
The acting in Girl In Progress is mostly solid; Cierra Ramirez is perfect as Ansiedad, proving to be a well-rounded little actress. Eva Mendes also has a pretty tough role as Grace, as she is given more dramatic material on her plate than most parental characters might in a film centered around a teen learning their way in life. Matthew Modine is adequate as Grace's cheating love interest, while Patricia Arquette is excellent as Ansiedad's English teacher who ends up lending some wisdom throughout the chaos of her "story." Finally, Eugenio Derbez plays an intriguing character as a man wholly interested in winning Grace's heart, but is limited by his inexperience due to being an immigrant to the country. Derbez is currently on TV in Rob Schneider's new show Rob and may be one of the best things that show has going for it. Russell Peters, who was recently seen in Source Code, is okay as Grace's boss, but may be a little too dry--especially when more lively characters surround him. It's a difficult film to pull off and be enjoyable and appealing to a wide audience, but a talented cast helps to make the challenging journey one that pays off enough at the end.
The content in Girl In Progress is, as you can expect, pretty rough. There isn't a lot of profanity at least (which is surprising if they're going for a more realistic look at teen life, but definitely appreciate), with mostly mild cussing at best. There is a lot of teenage drinking shown, and Ansiedad's behavior isn't the kind you'd want your kid to emulate (but perhaps seeing how none of it turns out the way she'd hoped, with all of it having repercussions, may encourage some viewers to make the right decisions in these circumstances). The worst of the content may be in the sexual department. Ansiedad talks about losing her virginity quite a bit, and she and some of her popular friends talk about trying to sleep with the most popular guy in school. Spoiler Alert! (I have to go into some spoiling details here...) At one point, Ansiedad pretty much throws herself at the guy at a party and he takes her upstairs. He seems reluctant, as he admits his womanizing ways are actually a front, but she encourages him to go put a condom on and go through with it. We then see him in his bathroom (which has pictures of busty women plastered all over the walls) as he tries to put a condom on, fumbles, and sends it flying across the room. It lands on a hot light bulb and partially melts. He then considers still using it. Meanwhile, Ansiedad strips down to her underwear, crawls into his bed, but then has second thoughts before it goes any further. The guy emerges from the bathroom apparently ready to go through with it, just as she finishes dressing and dashes out the door. It's an uncomfortable scene, but I can understand that it's intended to be to help Ansiedad realize just what she's really doing. Finally, we hear about, but don't see, that a character had taken a bunch of pills as an attempted suicide, due to some things that happened in the story. It's a very thematically mature film, despite its overall message being a positive one.
While the journey does have a worthwhile resolution, I'm not sure it's quite profound enough to be all that worth the miles the viewer has to travel to arrive at the predictable destination. A good cast and decent script make Girl In Progress stand out from other films that seem to exist without a purpose, but unless you're a fan of teen dramas specifically, or any one of the main cast members, you probably won't enjoy this one. It's not uncommon for us to have to learn the hard way in our own personal lives, but to watch someone force it upon themselves (with mostly predictable results) isn't exactly my idea of entertainment. So while there is a lesson to be learned here--and it's not a wasted effort on director Patricia Riggen's part by any means--it's certainly not an unfamiliar one... it's just the means of getting to that lesson that Girl In Progress makes a little more unique.- John DiBiase, (reviewed: 1/29/12)
** Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's rating.
Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not exclusively on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion and experience of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's overall rating.
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