Review: 'Girl in Progress' never really grows up

CHRISTY LEMIRE
9 May 2012
View photos
In this film image released by Pantelion Films, Eva Mendes, left, and Cierra Ramirez are shown in a scene from "Girl in Progress." (AP Photo/Pantelion Films, Bob Akester)

The strong, sexy presence of Eva Mendes and the girlish perkiness of Cierra Ramirez can only go so far to make the forced mother-daughter dramedy "Girl in Progress" tolerable.

It's a coming-of-age story that knows it's a coming-of-age story — as in, our young heroine is well aware of the conventions of this kind of tale and goes out of her way to manufacture various rites of passage to expedite her transformation from innocence to womanhood. Ramirez's character, the teenage Ansiedad, literally creates a flow chart in her bedroom and spells out her strategy with her only friend (the sweetly nerdy Raini Rodriguez) — whom she'll soon cast aside, she declares, because it's a necessary step in the process.

Breaking down and sending up a specific genre is fine if the script is strong enough to get away with such cutesy self-reference, as in "Juno" and "Easy A." Director Patricia Riggen and screenwriter Hiram Martinez don't go far enough, don't dig deep enough with these characters. They play it too safe, which makes "Girl in Progress" feel like a slightly racier version of an ABC Family show — and the flat, overly bright lighting further makes it feel like forgettable television.

It certainly doesn't help that the two main figures are cliches. Mendes' Grace is the child in the equation, having given birth when she was just 17 and hopping from man to man and town to town ever since. Ansiedad — which means anxiety in Spanish — is the responsible one: Smart, studious and organized, she's left to scrub the sink full of dishes while her mom's out with her married gynecologist boyfriend (Matthew Modine, whose character doesn't have a single perceptible redeeming quality).

Do you think it's possible that, by the end, they'll both have learned some lessons and assumed their rightful roles?

Riggen cuts awkwardly and sometimes too quickly between potentially poignant moments and scenes of wacky humor, which undermines her attempts at emotional honesty. Meanwhile, supporting characters who were intended to provide depth merely feel like types — Modine's cold, controlling wife or the kindhearted Mexican immigrant who works alongside Grace at a restaurant. And in a painfully literal device, Ansiedad's English teacher (Patricia Arquette) just happens to be explaining the steps in a coming-of-age story as Ansiedad embarks on them.

It's maddening: "Girl in Progress" knows that every teen movie has to have a blowout bash where important events take place, and it can't even get the tone of that right.

This is being marketed as an ideal film for moms and daughters to see together on Mother's Day weekend. A long, awkward brunch sounds more fun — and more truthful.

"Girl in Progress," a Lionsgate and Pantelion Films release, is rated PG-13 for mature thematic elements, sexual content including crude references, and drinking — all involving teens. Running time: 84 minutes. One and a half stars out of four.

___

Motion Picture Association of America rating definitions:

G — General audiences. All ages admitted.

PG — Parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

PG-13 — Special parental guidance strongly suggested for children under 13. Some material may be inappropriate for young children.

R — Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

NC-17 — No one under 17 admitted.

What to read next

Why You Should Cruise the Inside Passage

Alaska offers scenic views and captivating wildlife. Learn what else makes this destination the a trip of a lifetime.

Checkout the New Look of the 2016 Highlander

Your local Toyota dealer has unbelievable savings for you on a new Toyota Highlander Learn more today!

Print & Apply Labels

Save time & money! Print and apply custom labels. Printers from $1095.

Estate Living in Liberty Knolls at Colonial Forge

Upscale homes & the area’s largest wooded homesites w/ a 1/3 of an acre—located by schools, I-95 & VRE. From the $400s!

Liberty Mutual Insurance

Save up to 10% when you combine your auto and home insurance. Get a free quote and start saving today.

Quilts Starting at $99 / Duvets Starting at $59

Duvet Covers Start at $59 / Pure cotton, bright hues and earth-friendly dyes shop soft bedding with personality!