“Girl In Progress”
The critics hate this, because it’s so predictable, and, to be honest, it is.
Single Mom and pubescent daughter struggle financially and emotionally through the problems of single adult dating and early adolescence, but at the end tearfully embrace and re-affirm one another. Well, that’s certainly nothing new, so the enjoyment would have to come from either an outstanding script or incredible performances, and we don’t quite have those, either. But what we do have, while not exactly Oscar-worthy, is very watchable, and you root for these flawed characters because something about them resonates: you think they have good hearts and they can grow into their better selves.
Single Mom, Grace, is played by Eva Mendes, who makes the mistake of throwing around her sexuality to attract….a married man (Matthew Modine, in a solid supporting role). Grace works as a waitress at a fish restaurant, where the smarmy owner asks the three food servers to engage in a “responsibility competition” to see who gets to be in charge while he is away. Grace has to work multiple jobs to make ends meet, besides needing to allow time for her (clandestine) “romantic” life, so though she loves her daughter, she’s too preoccupied to notice that she is going through some significant changes.
Ansieded (Cierra Ramirez) is a cute, smart little girl who takes to heart what her English teacher (Patricia Arquette, also in a solid supporting role) is trying to communicate: the concept of “coming of age.” Ansieded decides that she needs to “come of age,” and unilaterally decides that certain steps are needed to hasten that process: among them, rebelling against Mom, flirting with a “bad boy,” dressing more provocatively, teaming up with “the bad girls,” intentionally failing tests (because it’s not cool to be too smart), trying something completely different (like entering a chess competition), kissing a guy who doesn’t care for her (just for the experience of emotionless displays of affection), getting high or drunk, losing her virginity, and dumping her best friend. She doesn’t actually go through with all of these, and her hesitant, sometimes half-hearted attempts to transform herself are part tragic, part comic, part poignant. But we can’t help but sympathize with someone who, trying to deal with raging hormones, makes a few stupid decisions. We just hope the damage isn’t irrevocable.
So, we’re talking about families, and friendships, and relationships, and loyalty, and personal sense of responsibility, and desire for independence, and the temptation to take the easy way out, and the indefinite postponing of life goals because, well, they’re just too difficult to attain. Grace ignores the guy at work who really does adore her, but not when he’s willing to get himself in trouble to try to help her. Ansieded, trying so desperately to find out who she is, loses some of herself along the way, but we want to see her right herself, because, well, we’ve been there, too, and sometimes it’s not easy finding your way back from there.
Sure, it’s a chick flick. Of course guys will stay away in droves. Maybe it’s too schmaltzy and preachy for girls, and too awkward and unromantic for women. Perhaps it will struggle to find any audience at all. But parts of this will leave an impression. And this teenager Cierra Ramirez is one who just might be ready for that breakthrough role.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Interim Pastor, St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church, Irving , Texas