24th March 2015

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Every person goes through some sort of transition from child to adult. That is fact. What is not a certainty is the pin pointed time when a person matures to adulthood. There have been countless films that follow the moment when something clicks inside an unsuspecting teenager’s brain. It is usually during high school with the typical subject being about sex or the popular kids in school. Girl In Progress is the same coming-of-age story but with a twist within the norms of high school dramas.

This Patricia Riggen film follows the story of Latino mother and daughter Grace and Ansiedad. Grace is played by beauty Eva Mendes who is known for smaller roles in Hollywood such as The Women (2008) and The Place Beyond The Pines (2012). Here, she plays a single mother who juggles two jobs, having an affair with a married man (whom she works for) and seemingly looking after her daughter Ansiedad (Cierra Ramirez) who's an intelligent girl with a smart mouth.

When Ansiedad’s English teacher, played by Oscar winning actress Patricia Arquette (Boyhood), focuses on the stories about coming of age, the girl decides she wants to escape her teenage years and go to New York. Before she does though, she must mature into womanhood. She follows an intricate plan that will ultimately make her realise that not everything is as straight and narrow as it seems in the story of a novel.
Girl in Progress could have been a huge flop if it weren’t for the cast. Eva Mendes shows that she can play a more serious role than the typical hot girlfriend of a mobster or the typical hot woman who is only capable of ruining marriages. She plays the single mother who is trying to find her own identity and dreams as well as pointing her daughter in the right direction. For the first half of the film though, as per usual, she portrays the sultry, sexy Latina men easily fall for aka the woman with no brains and no opinions of her own. In contrast, Cierra Ramirez plays the “nerd card” to a tee. She wears conservative clothing, hardly any makeup, is intelligent and humorous at the same time.

The opposites between mother and daughter flourish greatly. One scene that illustrates their contrast is when Ansiedad is studying in her room. Grace, on the other hand, has her music on full blast as she dances around her room in her lingerie like a teenager getting ready for a date with her boss – married Dr. Harford (Matthew Modine from The Dark Knight Rises, Transporter 2). It is like the child is the adult and the adult is the child, until Ansiedad begins her mission to write her own coming-of-age story and ultimately escape her mother.
As she is intelligent, Ansiedad thinks about her near-future experiences logically. She creates a collage on her wall to include things such as become a super geek, befriend the most popular girl in school, ditch the best friend and lastly, lose her virginity to the school's heartbreaker and general badass boy. In reality, it is obvious the underlying reason for Ansiedad’s outburst is trying to grab her mother’s attention and keep it on her for more than ten seconds. When she wears a cute outfit, rather than her dorky clothes, Grace loves the outfit but doesn’t notice that it is completely different from what Ansiedad would normally wear.

Later on in the film, when Ansiedad is in the bath talking about how she doesn’t really speak to her best friend anymore (after “ditching” her), it feels like there is finally going to be a breakthrough and that both mother and daughter will cry, apologise and hug it out. It’s on the brink as Grace washes Ansiedad’s hair with Ansiedad complementing her mum. Then Grace’s phone rings and it’s her married lover whom she finds more important to talk to than supporting her daughter. It is extremely frustrating but needed for the story to progress.

To continue with her plan, Ansiedad plays the popular, cool girl who is also a bitch. She gets further and further away from her true self and starts to lose herself in the act. In the meantime, Grace is promoted and starts to take more responsibility with her job as well as making sure she provides for her daughter. At this point, both mother and daughter cross an invisible line in the path that makes them act their own age instead of each other’s.
For both of them – as in every coming-of-age story – there is a light bulb moment. I won’t say what they are as that would be spoiling the end of the film. Something else dramatic happens which brings Ansiedad even closer to reality and draws mother and daughter back together for support, love and understanding.

The main theme is obvious in this one as it is with every coming-of-age story: finding your own identity. Both Grace and Ansiedad succeed as illustrated through the lovely montage at the end of the film, signifying that this stage of uncertainty in their life is over and they can now progress and prosper in what they want to do for themselves and not for anyone else’s benefit.
Girl In Progress is available on DVD from March 23rd
Faye Smith

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