‘Girl in Progress’ isn’t the good film it could have been

Cierra Ramirez in 'Girl in Progress'
Cierra Ramirez in ‘Girl in Progress’

“Ansiedad” is Spanish for anxiety.  It’s also the name of the daughter of “Grace” (Eva Mendes) who works jobs as a waitress at Emile’s Crab Shack and as a maid for the married gynecologist she’s having an affair with.

Grace gave birth to Ansiedad when she was only 17, so she wasn’t prepared for the job of parenting and it shows.  The two have moved from city to city as Grace has moved from boyfriend to boyfriend and career plan to career plan.

They’ve landed in Seattle because Grace was going to go to night school, learn about computers and then work for Microsoft.  But she’s yet to start her night school courses.

However, opportunity is going to come knocking.  Emile has been invited to take part in a competition for crab chefs that is the “Olympics of Crabs” and he’s holding a contest among the three waitresses to see who will take charge in his absence.  It’s a contest that Grace is determined to win.

Ansiedad (newcomer Cierra Martinez) has somehow ended up attending a very good private school in Seattle, mostly on scholarship and has made a best friend “Tavita” (Raini Rodriguez) who has her own issues.  Ansiedad is bright, energetic, and being held back in her mind because of her mother’s uninvolvement in her life.

Eva Mendes stars in 'Girl in Progress'
Eva Mendes stars in ‘Girl in Progress’

When her English teacher “Ms Armstrong” (Patricia Arquette) introduces the concept of coming of age stories into the curriculum, Ansiedad decides she’s going to have people start to call her Ann, as she is going to speed her passage into adulthood by creating and living out her own coming of age tale. Complete with falling into the typical teen problems of missing school, crushing her best friend in order to get “in” with the “in crowd” (oh, but she’ll wink so that it will all be okay), stealing money for an appearance makeover, failing courses and finally sleeping with the school’s bad boy before hopping aboard a bus to the East Coast and the adult life that awaits her.

The problem with such elaborately laid plans are that even if they work out as planned, the results are not what was expected.  Writer Hiram Martinez’s story may have had more promise than it delivered on the screen when it was just an unproduced screenplay, but the final product doesn’t begin to live up to the potential of the idea.

Girl in Progress is a strong idea, as coming of age can make for great story-telling.  There are wonderful moments in this film, like when Ann finally gets to give Tavita that wink to let her know everything is just fine,  that deliver punch.  But there are not enough of these moments.  A sideplot involving another employee at Emile’s goes nowhere good and the idea of a maid having an affair with a man who is clearly not interested in leaving his wife and children for her is just too cliched.

Cierra Martinez is a pleasant surprise, although in her scenes with Mendes it almost appears that they aren’t working from the same screenplay.  Mendes is always nice to look at, can give strong performances (Training Day and Hitch come to mind), but doesn’t have this character nailed.  She shines in one moment that sadly was given away in the trailer when defending how well she has or hasn’t parented her daughter where she comments about how her mother was never there for her.  The realization that those words are just as true for her as they are about her own mother are a brilliantly delivered wake-up call for her.

Girl in Progress has some energy, a few chuckles, and isn’t a bad film.  It’s just so sad it didn’t get to be the good movie it could have been.”

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