The Austin Chronicle

Girl in Progress

Rated PG-13, 101 min. Directed by Patricia Riggen. Starring Eva Mendes, Cierra Ramirez, Matthew Modine, Patricia Arquette, Raini Rodriguez, Landon Liboiron, Richard Harmon.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., May 11, 2012

"I'm a teen named Anxiety," neatly sums up everything you need to know going in to this tweener comic melodrama. The surprise is it's not half bad. The titular girl in progress is Ansiedad (Ramirez), who, true to her name, decides to rebel in grand fashion against her single, often absent, working mom Grace (Mendes), with malice aforethought. Well, pseudo malice, anyway. Girl in Progress plays out like a sunnier version of a YA-flavored telenovela, replete with Ansiedad's spelled-out intent via a frequently winning, snarkastic voiceover and a mother/daughter relationship that's code red from the get-go. It feels real, though, and Ramirez is a charmer with teen angst to burn and a world-weary pout that belies the insecure kid within.

The insecure kid without is Mendes' Grace, a model of questionable parenting skills who's carrying on an affair with married gynecologist Brad (Modine) and behaving as if her and her daughter's roles have been reversed, à la Freaky Friday, but from Ansiedad's point of view only. Refreshingly, director Riggen and screenwriter Hiram Martinez take the clichéd teen coming-of-age story seriously, or at least as seriously as these things get. To Ansiedad, of course, it's a life-and-death struggle to emerge as an independent young girl in the shadow of her mother's oft-noted dependence on the ever-changing parade of men in her life. But Martinez has a flair for writing dialogue that sounds like something you might actually have heard coming from a teen's mouth, and as Ansiedad engineers her own, literal coming-of-age drama, it's considerably more involved and involving than expected.

From falling in with the wrong crowd to losing her virginity to the school's resident bad boy (not to mention declaring a moratorium on doing the dishes), Ansiedad hits every trope in the sassy teen handbook, but not without style. The underlying life lessons – grow up, mom! chill out, kid! – aren't exactly new, but that's the point, really. Rather than waiting for the pitfalls and ignominies of teen life to befall her, Ansiedad makes a beeline straight for them, one by awesome and/or horrific one. Despite an unnecessarily convoluted ending that reeks of ABC Afterschool Unspecialness, Girl in Progress is an old story about a young girl told in a smart way, and that's something you don't see every day, no matter how many times you think you've seen it before.

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