GIRL IN PROGRESS – Review by Susan Granger

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Preoccupied with juggling waitressing/cleaning jobs, an avalanche of bills, the attentions of busboy Mission (Eugenio Derbez) and an illicit affair with a married gynecologist, Dr. Harford (Matthew Modine), self-absorbed Seattle single mom Grace (Eva Mendes) doesn’t seem to have much time to devote to her precocious tween daughter, Ansiedad (Cierra Ramirez).

So when Ansiedad’s high-school English teacher, Mrs. Armstrong (Patricia Arquette) introduces her students to the cultural rites in classic coming-of-age stories, resentful Ansiedad decides to bypass adolescence, grow up quickly with the help of her loyal friend, Tavita (Raini Rodriguez), and take off for New York.

Formulaically scripted by Dominican-born, New York-raised Hiram Martinez and directed by Mexico’s Patricia Riggen (who helmed the immigrant drama “Under the Same Moon”), this sudsy melodrama combines pubescent high-school apprehension with hackneyed overworked mom angst, serving neither genre particularly well since the emotionally connective tissue seems to be missing.

While she much prefers to be called ‘Ann,’ it’s significant that the name Ansiedad means “anxiety” in Spanish. Pantelion is a joint venture of Lionsgate Films and Televisa, the Mexican entertainment corporation that’s trying to carve an ethnic niche for itself in the United States with Latino-aimed ‘familia’ fare like Will Ferrell’s Spanish-speaking comedy “Casa de mi Padre.”

Usually cast in femme fatale/seductress roles or as the glamorous spokesperson for Calvin Klein’s Secret Obsession fragrance and Seductive Comfort underwear, Eva Mendes delivers a surprisingly ingratiating performance, even actually appearing blue-collar frumpy in one or two scenes, as the aimless, irresponsible Hispanic mother who had Ansiedad when she was just a teenager herself and has continued to live a peripatetic existence. Her dedication and emotional range is matched by naively spirited Cierra Ramirez. Too bad they weren’t given a more plausible, in-depth narrative to work with.

Any whatever possessed Patricia Riggen to cast 20 year-old Brenna O’Brien as Valerie, the high-school bad girl? She looks far too old to be 17 year-old Cierra’s gal pal.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Girl in Progress” is a contrived, cliché-filled 5, culminating in a predictable conclusion.

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Susan Granger

Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, Phi Beta Kappa, with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.