GIRL IN PROGRESS
MOVIE: *** (out of 5)
DVD EXPERIENCE: ** (out of 5)
BY KEVIN CARR
I have to admit that when I first saw a trailer for “Girl in Progress,” I rolled my eyes. It just seemed like an overly obvious stab at award season for an otherwise less notable serious actor, that being Eva Mendes. Nothing against Mendes, but she’s never been known as a great actor, and this just felt like she was trying to hard to get noticed.
Reluctantly, I requested a copy for review, and as it happens from time to time, I found that I really quite enjoyed the movie.
The film tells two stories, one of a mother and one of a daughter. The mother Grace (Mendes) is a single parent, struggling with multiple jobs, trying to keep afloat financially while raising her daughter, Ansiedad (Cierra Ramirez). Her daughter doesn’t like the situation she’s in, and she resents being stuck in high school and considered a kid. After a lesson about coming-of-age stories in her literature class, Ansiedad decides to effect her own coming-of-age story to grow up faster.
It’s not that “Girl in Progress” is necessarily free from the cliches of this kind of film. It is nothing but a huge cliche, but that’s okay. It handles the cliche well and doesn’t get too wrapped up in its own emotion. It’s a button-pusher, and things escalate with the characters in the story much faster than they otherwise should or would realistically happen. However, it is the film’s approach that is unique.
Instead of making Ansiedad just some snotty, surly teen, she’s actually quite smart. She’s still a clueless teenager (because, let’s face it, that’s what a teenage is supposed to be), but she actually has a plan and a purpose. Having her try to manufacture a coming-of-age story out of her own life is actually a pretty unique plot device.
The movie also manages to tell both the mother’s story and the daughter’s story without stepping on each other’s toes. The viewer is unable to tell who the film fully belongs to, as we get a sympathetic look at both of them, and that makes things interesting. Grace isn’t this hard-nosed villain to her daughter until the very end when they see things through each others’ eyes. They have their own motivations, and they make their own mistakes, letting us see them as sympathetic.
“Girl in Progress” is held up with fine performances by both Mendes and Ramirez, as well as some good supporting performances by Matthew Modine and Patricia Arquette. This isn’t the kind of movie that’s going to come anywhere close to my top 10 list as the year folds up, but it’s leaning on the plus side for me, which was a pleasant surprise.
The DVD includes only a single special feature, “The Making of Girl in Progress.” However, this featurette does offer some decent insight into the development and making of the film.