Ansiedad (Cierra Ramirez), standing on the bridge between childhood and womanhood, is looking to fast-track the transition. Raised by her over-worked, under-attentive single mother, Grace (Eva Mendes), Ansiedad would like to dispense with her childhood as quickly as possible. So when her English teacher, Ms. Armstrong (Patricia Arquette), begins a unit on adolescent "rites of passage," Ansiedad hits the library to research all the available options for coming of age. She skips over "baptism," "bat and bar mitzvahs," and even "piercings and tattoos" and zeroes in on "loss of virginity." A plan is hatched, and the audience of Girl in Progress is forced to watch—and cajoled to care about—the self-destructive quest that the adults in the film are too self-absorbed to notice.

There is nothing subtle about Ansiedad's plan. She creates a large, illustrated flowchart on her bedroom wall, which she refers to with a professional-grade pointer during a presentation for her best friend, Tavita (Raini Rodriguez). First, she'll establish a baseline of "plucky innocence," by borrowing a pink-streamered bicycle, joining the chess club, and adopting a grandmother from the local care home. Then, she'll develop a bad attitude and the wardrobe to match, get in with the wrong crowd, lose (if she gets lucky with the timing) her adopted grandmother to inevitable death, ditch her homework and her best friend, and find a Bad Boy to "deflower" her. Tavita agrees to support and enable the scheme, provided the part about dumping her is omitted.

Eva Mendes as Grace

Eva Mendes as Grace

The whole undertaking is more "cry-for-help" than subterfuge, of course. But even as Ansiedad informs her mother that she will soon be refusing to wash the dishes as an "early warning sign," Grace remains oblivious to both her daughter's plan and her pain. In fairness, Grace has plenty to distract her. Struggling to pay the rent and school tuition (Ansiedad, inexplicably, attends a private school), Grace works days as a housecleaner and nights as the most popular waitress at a crab shack. Her stormy love life has kept mother and daughter on the move in the past; the present is no better as Grace rebuffs the affections of a semi-literate crab shack deliveryman (Eugenio Derbez) and conducts a brazen affair with a married gynecologist (Matthew Modine).

Cierra Ramirez as Ansiedad

Cierra Ramirez as Ansiedad

What will it take for Ansiedad to get her mother's attention? Although Girl in Progress is careful to play things safe enough to justify pitching itself as a faith-and-family-friendly film, the "how-far-will-she-go" tension that fuels the plot makes it a rather queasy undertaking for anyone who cares about girls and the challenges of adolescence. (Despite its often risqué and sexually-themed content, the film is being heavily pitched to Christians. A "resources" website—prepared by social media marketing firm Buzzplant—includes a Bible study/discussion guide and endorsements from a number of Christian leaders, including Samuel Rodríguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, who says the film "will transform the homes of Hispanic families across the nation" and that the NHCLC "is proud to lend our support and endorsement, without reservation," and the Dove Foundation, which calls it "a film you and your family will care about!" Buzzplant has also sent e-mails about the film under the header "Christian Movie Updates." Meanwhile, GodTube carries the trailer while calling it "a film offering hope & wisdom for teens & parents today dealing with real issues.")

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Matthew Modine as Dr. Hartford

Matthew Modine as Dr. Hartford

Unfortunately, Hiram Martinez's screenplay is periodically as juvenile as its subject matter. The protagonists veer from realistically flawed to monstrously calloused and back again; our capacity to care about them is seriously eroded in the process. Certainly we can relate to the plight of the single mother overburdened by financial and relational circumstances. But a scene early in the movie—where Grace dances and preens to a torrid love song in preparation for a date while her daughter struggles to concentrate on her homework, wash the dishes, and scrub the toilets—moves us from "realistic family drama" to child-abuse of Cinderella-esque proportions. Similarly, we can understand Ansiedad's love-hate relationship with her flaky mother, but a class presentation in the film's opening frames in which she publically attacks Grace's character and exposes her promiscuous past is so over the top it alienates us from our heroine before her quest is even begun. And the quest itself is seriously soured when Ansiedad does in fact turn on her best friend in inexplicably savage fashion.

Ms. Armstrong (Patricia Arquette) and Ansiedad

Ms. Armstrong (Patricia Arquette) and Ansiedad

The film is also subject to confusing and erratic shifts in tone, and while mood swings may be arguably apropos for an exploration of adolescence, they do nothing to help us engage with the story. At first, there's a light-hearted nudge-nudge-wink-wink quality to the narrative, as the rite-of-passage after-school-special construct is cleverly deconstructed and director Patricia Riggen indulges in black and white, stylized vignettes to illustrate Ansiedad's plans. But this sitcom-y pop culture insider-ness works against our really caring on cue when things turn heartfelt and dramatic.

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The cast does what they can with the crosscurrents of the material. Mendes manages to exude her reliable sex appeal and some genuine warmth, while Ramirez's troubled teen does have a quirky charm. Raini Rodriguez (a veteran of Disney TV and comedic films like Paul Blart) does what she can with Tavita's overweight-underdog-sidekick role, even when the script asks her to say inane things like "I'm sorry your daughter has no father, Mrs. Gutierrez." Supporting characters have even less to work with; Arquette is strangely wan and seriously underutilized as the only perceptive adult in Ansiedad's life, and even comedian Russell Peters's genuinely funny turn as the crab-obsessed restaurant owner is marred when the script asks him to play spousal abuse for laughs. As for the uniformly vacuous miscellaneous teens who populate the halls and parties of Girl in Progress—one can only hope our real adolescents have more depth than does this movie.

Talk About It

Discussion starters
  1. Do you believe young people most go through "rites of passage" to come of age? If yes, should these milestones be planned or happen naturally? What are some healthy and productive rites of passage?
  2. Think of three people you are very close to. Do you have a good idea of the main issues they are currently facing? If not, can you make time to ask each of them, or to just spend some quality time together?
  3. Statistics tell us that many teens are sexually active. Is this the case in your peer group (or, if you are a parent, in your children's peer group)? What are the best reasons for saving sex till marriage? What are some reasons people often state for not waiting?

The Family Corner

For parents to consider

Girl in Progress is rated PG-13 for mature thematic elements, sexual content including crude references, and drinking, all involving teens. Although the protagonist's plan to lose her virginity is not consummated in the end, her sexual quest is a major plot point and is treated somewhat crudely, as in another boy's reference to her desire to "get her hole punched." Teens are seen in their underwear; a boy struggles with and eventually breaks a condom. There are implicit references to sexual activity amongst the other teen characters, and the main adult romance is adulterous. There is no full nudity and only mild profanity, and the "bad behavior" of the main characters in the film is all rejected and reformed by the film's end. Some parents may find the film a good conversation-starter with older teens; others may deem the subject matter needlessly sordid.

Our Rating
2 Stars - Fair
Average Rating
(2 user ratings)ADD YOURSHelp
Mpaa Rating
PG-13 (for mature thematic elements, sexual content including crude references, and drinking, all involving teens)
Directed By
Patricia Riggen
Run Time
1 hour 33 minutes
Eva Mendes, Cierra Ramirez, Patricia Arquette
Theatre Release
August 10, 2012 by Lionsgate
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