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Girl in Progress

Over the years, there haven’t been enough quality films around featuring Hispanic female leads. After Girl in Progress, there still aren’t enough.

This well-intentioned crowd-pleaser about a mother who acts too young and a daughter who acts too old contains some universal themes along with some well-worn comedy cliches.

Eva Mendes plays Grace, a single mother and struggling waitress at a Seattle seafood restaurant who is trying to maintain a hip social life while juggling her job, her bills, her affair with a married doctor (Matthew Modine), and her relationship to her precocious teenage daughter, Ansiedad (Cierra Ramirez).

Meanwhile, Ansiedad can’t wait for adulthood, which would mean freeing herself from her mother. After her teacher (Patricia Arquette) assigns a project that involves reading classic coming-of-age stories, Ansiedad hatches a plan to accelerate her path through adolescence by acting out many of the clichés from those stories. Her calculated scheme for rebellion, redemption and ultimate freedom, however, backfires and leaves her mother as the only place to turn for help.

The film, directed by Patricia Riggen (Under the Same Moon) from a script by Hiram Martinez, encounters a common pitfall in big-screen comedy in its attempt to satirize the coming-of-age story.

It’s funny in some moments and charming in others, but ultimately the screenplay is suffocated by its mechanical structure.

Its insinuation that coming-of-age stories can be so easily pigeonholed is dubious to begin with, but then it begins to bog down in the same cliches it attempts to lampoon, such as the strife between teenage best friends and the climactic party sequence where everything falls apart. In other words, just because the film has a self-awareness of its stereotypes doesn’t offer a sufficient excuse to indulge in them.

One highlight is the performance of relative newcomer Ramirez, who combines strength and vulnerability in a performance that rises above the material. However, Mendes (Hitch) sees her character detour into an abundance of irrelevant subplots.

Any attempt to provide insight into various real-life issues, such as teenage rebellion or the perils of single motherhood, is compromised by the film’s predicable reliance on feel-good sentimentality.

 

Rated PG-13, 90 minutes.

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