The coming-of-age teen comedy has been done literally hundreds of times in the history of cinema, John Hughes practically has the patent on it. The odds of coming up with a truly unique spin on the topic is rare but does happen, as Patricia Riggen’s Girl in Progress clearly shows.
Where other films might focus solely on the trials and tribulations of being teenage,r Girl in Progress splits its time between mother and daughter showing the parallels of both in the modern world. Grace (Eva Mendes) had her daughter Ansieded (played by the amazing Cierra Ramirez) as a teenager and ran away from home shortly after, hopping from city to city every time there was a new man in her life.
Wild and impulsive all her life, Grace is the perfect balance to Ansided who has grown up taking care of her mother. The film establishes within the first few minutes that Ansided doesn’t respect her mother very much although there is an obvious love between them. After hearing about the concept of coming-of-age stories during one her classes, Ansided becomes determined to become a woman and leave her mom behind.
It’s at this point that the film takes a turn for the surreal. Ansided deconstructs the coming-of-age story and sets out to put all the steps in motion, by any means necessary. Using her best friend as a sounding board and confidant, she reinvents herself many times over going from geek to rebel, all according to a set plan she envisions ending with her losing her virginity. Ansided’s plan more or less translates to an outline of the movie itself, telling the audience what will happen before it does.
This might be the downfall of a lesser movie but the way Ramirez approaches her character is refreshing. “I just wanted to let you know that very soon I won’t be doing dishes any more as an act of rebellion,” she tells her mother with a totally straight face about halfway through the movie. The dynamic created between the two characters allows for interactions that cover the entire spectrum of emotions, sometimes swinging wildly from calm to manic in a matter of seconds. Grace and Ansided are created to be the ying to each other’s yang and it works perfectly on screen.
While the cast is mostly Hispanic, director Patricia Riggen approaches the material as universal rather than niche. The relationship between Grace and her daughter will speak to young mothers everywhere as they deal with the tribulations of raising a teenager daughter so close to their age. Whether you are a teenager dealing with a crazy mother or a mother dealing with an out of control daughter, the final 20 minutes will have you teary-eyed. While the climax is a bit conventional, the raw emotion both Mendes and Ramirez show takes the movie to a very personal level.
What could have easily been a run-of-the-mill story gets turned on its head in the hands of Riggen and writer Hiram Martinez. While the story is undoubtedly meant for the female persuasion, the fact that it stands on its own as a solid film means that it has the legs to last at the box office.
It should be noted that, in a rather interesting marketing move, Lionsgate pushed the released date of the film from late April to Mother’s Day weekend. Granted the subject matter was created for mothers and daughters, it may not be the film you want to see to celebrate the occasion. While quite comedic, the film is bound to create some rather uncomfortable conversations between parent and progeny. Girl in Progress is unquestionably worth seeing, but it might be good to wait until after you’ve given Mom her gift!