You know how on the big screen, an immature but well-intentioned mom wears platform espadrilles and looks like Eva Mendes, and plucky teens give themselves fake dreadlocks and engineer their own transitions into adulthood with flow charts? We all know it's much messier in real life. But even in all its movie-cuteness, Girl in Progress keeps its feet on the ground just enough to keep you watching.
Pantelion, the first major Latino studio, has released several films, and aside from the recent Will Ferrell comedy Casa de Mi Padre, this is one of the best written and acted of the bunch. The story centers on high schooler Ansiedad (Cierra Ramirez), who has a young mother (Eva Mendes) that she usually ends up taking care of instead of the other way around. When her teacher (Patricia Arquette) gives them an assignment about coming of age stories, industrious Ansiedad does her research and decides that she is going to engineer her own growing up--and fast. That way she can leave behind the mom who calls her a nerd when she wins a chess match and then leaves her at home alone to go out with her married boyfriend. You can't really blame the kid.
With her overachiever, type A style, she hits all of the classic coming of age story points: changing your style, dumping your best friend, losing your virginity, and disappointing your elders. It's not that she's wrong--it's just that she has reduced an abstract and unpredictable event to a mathematical formula. Even though it's meant to be precious, it was just a little too clever for its own good. I never got to love the character.
Conversely, stumbling around and trying to get herself together is Eva Mendes, who is doing the Pretty Girl Failing Miserably at Life thing really well. Her lovely face is etched with hopelessness and concern over doing what's right, and it hurt my heart--which signals that I am obviously closer to her age than to Ansiedad's. If you're a kid who feels misunderstood and overlooked, longing for a day where you can eat cookies for dinner when you want to, you'll probably love this film because it's a solid entry into the self-aware teen girl genre. Otherwise, if you're the one signing the checks, you'll probably want to save those pennies.