[Review] – Girl In Progress

26 May

Title: Girl in Progress
Year: 2012
Director: Patricia Riggen
Writer: Hiram Martinez
Starring: Eva Mendes, Matthew Modine, Cierra Ramirez, Patricia Arquette, Russell Peters
MPAA Rating: PG-13, mature thematic elements, sexual content including crude references, and drinking – all involving teens
Runtime: 90 min
IMDb Rating: 4.1
Rotten Tomatoes: 28%
Metacritic: 45

The general premise of Girl in Progress is one I actually kind of liked because it was rather original and could make for a film that explored some really neat topics. That, however, is pretty much the only moderately good thing I can say about Patricia Riggen‘s film, because as decent a premise as it may have, and as well-intentioned as it may be, it’s just absolutely all over the place, never once really grasping what kind of movie it really wanted to be. And, moreover, the attempts at exploring those neat topics and issues I just mentioned fail absolutely because of the movie’s reliance on being overly sentimental that just totally trap its characters in horrible clichés.

The main character of those is Grace, played by Eva Mendes, a single mom with a daughter, called Ansiedad, to whom she can’t really give all that much attention, or at least not as much as Ansiedad would want because she’s too busy juggling her work and paying the bills and being in an affair with a married doctor played by Matthew Modine. What happens to Ansiedad, then? Well, it just so happens that her English teacher, played by Patricia Arquette, is just introducing her class to the most classic coming-of-age novels, and Ansiedad thinks it smart to come of age herself, but faster than usual, planning to pretty much skip through the whole adolescence period and start behaving like an adult that doesn’t have to depend on her mother at all.

So of course the film itself will become a coming-of-age story of sorts, both for Grace and Ansiedad. And I liked that notion of Ansiedad deciding to grow up by herself and that we would potentially explore in a really cool way that form of teenage rebellion in the presence of an absent mother, but Girl in Progress just pulls out all of the melodramatic stops that you would imagine a film like this could pull, and by the end of its slim ninety-minute running time it will have wrapped up all of its ends in the neatest and most convenient of ways, and it just isn’t believable enough.

A gimmick that the film uses is actually one of the things that hurt it the most. You see, when these coming-of-age stories start becoming as generic of this one it’s kind of like they start crossing out every cliché in the genre’s playbook, something that most reviews would point out in that exact way. Well, in the case of Girl in Progress that’s actually what actually happens on-screen; Ansiedad literally gets out a notebook and makes a list of all the things that are stereotypical enough by now for her to believe she must cross out before she can truly state that she’s come of age.

The film arguably does this for a couple of reasons. For one, having this precocious teenager trying to do this is pretty much trying to make her seem quirky like some kind of Juno MacGuff; which it really, really doesn’t come even remotely close to pulling off. And, secondly, it also may think that doing that makes it smart in a tongue-in-cheek kind of way, like recognizing the conventions your genre usually sticks to. Well, that would be smart if you were, I don’t know, a film as brilliant as The Cabin in the Woods (which is my fourth favorite film of the year so far, and to which an A to) that shows you the conventions and then turns them inside out. Suffice it to say Girl in Progress doesn’t do that; this one acknowledges the conventions and follows them by the letter.

Ansiedad then starts thinking about all the stuff she needs to do, which includes losing her virginity and, of course, dumping her geeky best friend, the latter of which provides a sequence that was actually quite mean in this film. Come to think of it, that might have been the point in which the film really lost me and got me to really dislike it. Because her best friend is Tavita, which is just this chubby girl who’s super faithful to Ansiedad, the kind of friend any person, having read books or not, would know you should work hard to keep around for as long as you can. And yet this film makes Ansiedad dump her in a fashion that’s just super cruel and that got me so mad at the character this whole film was about I pretty much stopped caring.

The mom of course is also growing up in a way, learning about life as she goes through a low-paying job and an affair to one of those classic douchebags that keeps promising that they’ll leave their wives soon enough. Of course the film will go on to clearly establish that, guess what, growing up is not something that you can plan out in a notebook an force upon yourself; it’s a process that takes time, and it’s very much a messy and unexpected kind of process. Girl in Progress makes it all seem too neat, and thus too hard to buy into, and, if it really is as self-aware as it tried to make itself seem, then it must know that it’s actually a pretty bad movie.

Grade: D+

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