Coming-of-age is a rightfully popular film genre among viewers who enjoy seeing the young protagonist psychologically and morally grow into adulthood. Movies that take the risk of featuring a large minority cast to show the emotional growth of youth has the difficulty of not only showing the problems all teens face, but the ones the minority faces as well. However, director Patricia Riggen‘s new coming-of-age comedy-drama Girl in Progress ultimately fails to impress with the continued presence of overly-used stereotypes and overly dramatic moments between the main teen character and her occasionally emotionally stunted mother.
Girl in Progress follows single mother Grace (Eva Mendes) who is so busy juggling two jobs and having an affair with a married man, Dr. Harford (Matthew Modine), that she doesn’t have any time for her teenage daughter Anisedad (Cierra Ramirez). After her English teacher, Ms. Armstrong (Patricia Arquette), introduces her class to classic coming-of-age stories, Ansiedad is determined to skip her adolescence and start her life without her mother, much like she did when she was her age.
With the help of her loyal best friend Tavita (Raini Rodriguez), Ansiedad plans her shortcut to adulthood. But as her plan unravels, Ansiedad and Grace both learn that sometimes growing up means acting your age.
Striving to showcase the difficulties minorities are facing today as single parents, Riggen ultimately fails to infuse her comedy-drama with original characters or unique conflicts. Like many coming-of-age films, Girl in Progress reverts to several genre cliches to make it seem as though the main character is maturing gradually, when it really only takes one significant event to make her realize who she really is.
Anisedad resorts to purposely failing classes and gives in to peer pressure, even though her actions go against her true personality, to force Grace to pay attention to her. She also contradicts her very reason of rebelling, to obtain attention to the person most important to her, by disregarding the feelings of her peers.
Grace, meanwhile, works at menial jobs, including a waitress at a seafood restaurant, to support Anisedad, but still doesn’t make enough money. She neglects her daughter and her plans to go back to school in order to please Dr. Harford, even though he has no plans on leaving his wife for her.
The lack of advancement in Grace and Anisedad’s maturity is also clearly visible in cinematographer Checco Varese‘s simplistic camera angles and shots. The two characters spend the majority of the film with their peers, and when they do appear in the same scene, Varese often fails to capture Ramirez and Mendes in the same frame together. The cinematographer’s unimaginative camerawork does little to show the physical and emotional reactions the mother and daughter have to each other. Much like through the countless cliches Riggen includes about single mothers, rebellious daughters and minorities, Varese’s camerawork also fails to showcase the characters bonding and fully maturing together.
Girl in Progress had the potential to intriguingly update the coming-of-age story of a minority often times forgotten by the film industry. Unfortunately, Riggen essentially gives into the stereotypes of many female Spanish characters. With Grace resorting to an affair with a successful married man and working jobs below her intelligence level, and the smart Anisedad defiantly acting out just to receive attention, the film, like its characters, is tied down by its stereotypes.