Susan Granger’s review of “Girl in Progress” (Lionsgate/Pantelion)
Preoccupied with juggling waitressing/cleaning jobs, an avalanche of bills, the attentions of busboy Mission (Eugenio Derbez) and an illicit affair with a married gynecologist, Dr. Harford (Matthew Modine), self-absorbed Seattle single mom Grace (Eva Mendes) doesn’t seem to have much time to devote to her precocious tween daughter, Ansiedad (Cierra Ramirez).
So when Ansiedad’s high-school English teacher, Mrs. Armstrong (Patricia Arquette) introduces her students to the cultural rites in classic coming-of-age stories, resentful Ansiedad decides to bypass adolescence, grow up quickly with the help of her loyal friend, Tavita (Raini Rodriguez), and take off for New York.
Formulaically scripted by Dominican-born, New York-raised Hiram Martinez and directed by Mexico’s Patricia Riggen (who helmed the immigrant drama “Under the Same Moon”), this sudsy melodrama combines pubescent high-school apprehension with hackneyed overworked mom angst, serving neither genre particularly well since the emotionally connective tissue seems to be missing.
While she much prefers to be called ‘Ann,’ it’s significant that the name Ansiedad means “anxiety” in Spanish. Pantelion is a joint venture of Lionsgate Films and Televisa, the Mexican entertainment corporation that’s trying to carve an ethnic niche for itself in the United States with Latino-aimed ‘familia’ fare like Will Ferrell’s Spanish-speaking comedy “Casa de mi Padre.”
Usually cast in femme fatale/seductress roles or as the glamorous spokesperson for Calvin Klein’s Secret Obsession fragrance and Seductive Comfort underwear, Eva Mendes delivers a surprisingly ingratiating performance, even actually appearing blue-collar frumpy in one or two scenes, as the aimless, irresponsible Hispanic mother who had Ansiedad when she was just a teenager herself and has continued to live a peripatetic existence. Her dedication and emotional range is matched by naively spirited Cierra Ramirez. Too bad they weren’t given a more plausible, in-depth narrative to work with.
Any whatever possessed Patricia Riggen to cast 20 year-old Brenna O’Brien as Valerie, the high-school bad girl? She looks far too old to be 17 year-old Cierra’s gal pal.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Girl in Progress” is a contrived, cliché-filled 5, culminating in a predictable conclusion.