Both mother and daughter experience coming of age rituals in Patricia Riggen’s Girl in Progress, a film with some initial promise which degenerates into the worst kind of melodramatic pabulum. Some good actors aren’t used particularly well in the poorly written story, and subplots for other characters are given irritatingly short shrift after the filmmakers allow the viewer to get invested in them. Still, there’s likely an audience of mothers and daughters out there which this film might help to generate some dialogue and honest communication. Alas, the characters in the film get there through too many dramatic shortcuts.
Girl in Progress
Directed by Patricia Riggen
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1 anamorphic
Running Time: 93 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English
Subtitles: SDH, Spanish
Release Date: September 11, 2012
Review Date: September 9, 2012
Thirteen-year old Ansiedad (Cierra Ramirez) finds out about the ritual of coming of age in her English class from her teacher Ms. Armstrong (Patricia Arquette), so she decides she’ll write her own coming-of-age scenario so she can get to adulthood faster given that her mother Grace (Eva Mendes) is a mother in name only, sleeping around with lots of different men (her latest is a married gynecologist Dr. Hartford - Matthew Modine) and leaving the housework, shopping, and meal preparation to her daughter. Ansiedad has decided that her coming of age story will involve her becoming an irresponsible bad girl like her school role model, the über-bitchy Valerie (Brenna O'Brien), and that necessitates her dumping her nerdy best friend Tavita (Raini Rodriguez), slacking off on chores and her schoolwork, and attempting to seduce school BMOC Trevor (Landon Liboiron). But she doesn’t see that her attempts to reach maturity on the fast track are going to hurt a lot of people.
The film’s first third as scripted by Hiram Martinez is rather flippant and fun, a Latin-tinged, female-centric variation on the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books and films as the very appealing Ansiedad (whose translated name is “Anxiety,” quite apt) examines her life with her barely-there mother and decides what must be done to improve things. With her best friend in tow, they map out a maturation strategy on her wall which the quick-witted girl takes step by delightful step. But a third of the way through, the movie turns darker and far more predictable as Ansiedad morphs into the typically “mean girl” seen in countless films and television shows where she instantly loses her appeal. Conversely, her mother, who needs her own coming of age moment desperately as she’s still an overgrown kid too involved in her own activities to give any attention to her talented daughter, struggles to handle a new responsibility given to her by her boss while wrestling with the adulterous relationship she’s entered into so willingly. From then on, the film follows predictable paths including a poorly directed slapstick sequence at Grace’s restaurant that she’s temporarily managing and then the film’s lugubrious third act where both daughter and mother hit rock bottom and Grace magically transforms into supermom.
It’s not Eva Mendes’ fault that her character is so cliché-ridden and lacking a believable through line from irresponsible mom to total enlightenment. She does what she can with this substandard role. Much better is Cierra Ramirez who’s sensationally appealing and quirky as Ansiedad especially in the film’s first half before she turns dark and driven toward all bad choices. Raini Rodriguez as her best friend Tavita is equally good, her heartbreak at her friend’s betrayal is simply and beautifully portrayed. Patricia Arquette gives a very grounded performance as the English teacher who can only do so much to reach her wayward student and her mother who’s in total denial. Eugenio Derbez as a worker at Grace’s restaurant with a crush on her is saddled with an interesting character who gets dropped by the wayside too early, but his treatment is better than that handed to Matthew Modine who never seems to sink his teeth into his cheating spouse character and thus send clear signals to either Grace or the audience as to his real intentions. Brenna O'Brien plays her one-note mean girl with spirit and grit, and Landon Liboiron as the jock all the girls want to be with makes some good character choices in his few scenes, regretfully shortchanged with quite a few other of the story’s male characters.
The film’s 2.40:1 theatrical aspect ratio is presented here in a transfer that’s anamorphically enhanced for widescreen televisions. Sharpness is never better than above average and several shots are less worthy. Black levels are better than one might expect, but there’s a brownish tinge to the color timing that mutes appealing color saturation levels though flesh tones look natural enough. The film has been divided into 16 chapters.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 sound mix concentrates most of its energies on the front soundstage with precious little apart from an isolated ambient sound or two sent to the rears which remain silent for large chunks of the movie. Christopher Lennertz’s music occasionally gets a full rendering through the soundfield but more often than not maintains only a stereo presence across the front. The dialogue has been well recorded and has been placed in the center channel.
“The Making of Girl in Progress” is an EPK featurette running for 9 minutes in which director Patricia Riggen and actors Eva Mendes, Matthew Modine, Patricia Arquette, Cierra Ramirez, and Raini Rodriguez basically praise one another’s efforts to the skies with a few behind-the-scenes shots of filming or staging taking place used against voiceovers from the actors. It’s in anamorphic widescreen.
There are promo trailers for Friends with Kids, Blue Like Jazz, From Prada to Nada, and Casa de mi padre.
3/5 (not an average)
Girl in Progress has an impressive acting performance from young Cierra Ramirez at its center, but it’s an otherwise muddled and overly familiar story as it runs, nullifying its creative and delightful opening scenes and devolving into melodramatic twaddle by the end.