(No longer in theaters)
Benjamin Odell, John Fiedler
May 11, 2012
For western, postmodern whimsy, there’s Patricia Riggen’s Girl in Progress, which is likely the first coming-of-age story centering on a girl who learns in class what a coming-of-age story is and meticulously designs her own. Ansiedad (Cierra Ramirez) plans to wear black clothes with ripped stockings, befriend the mean girls, publicly dump her overweight best friend (but with a wink meant to mitigate the cruelty), and lose her virginity in the most degrading way possible to the school’s resident womanizer—then have an epiphany and get a bus out of town to her new life. This scheme, at once novel and cliché, is Ansiedad’s response to her mother, Grace (Eva Mendes), an oft-broke, promiscuous high-school dropout who moves her daughter around the country and spends nights in a motel with her married-doctor lover (Matthew Modine). Soon Ansiedad is decapitating her dolls and blandly defying her mom: “I’m out of control. Catch you later.”
The premise of Girl in Progress is a tad Juno-esque for comfort, but Ansiedad sounds like teen girls I know, bursting with theories and fundamentally clueless, and Ramirez is a strong enough actress to ensure that her character’s show of mastery is not to be confused with the real thing. Mendes might be too bent on being likable to convey the full measure of Grace’s insensitivity—she won’t go to that dark place where a mother isn’t a mother. So the movie goes soft. But it has the unpretentious energy and charm of a good YA girls’ novel.