**1/2 (out of four)
As teenage Ansiedad (Cierra Ramirez) longs to hop a bus to “adult-ville,” I couldn’t help but think of “Arrested Development” and what Michael (Jason Bateman) tells his son George Michael (Michael Cera) when dad thinks the boy refers to sex as “Pop Pop:” “The mere fact that you call making love ‘Pop Pop,’” he says, “tells me that you're not ready.”
Without much guidance from single mom Grace (Eva Mendes) and her two jobs, Ansiedad desperately wants to fast-forward through childhood and arrive at the point kids think exists—when adulthood hits and everyone understands everything. So she researches adolescent rites of passage and maps them out on her bulletin board, planning to demonstrate potential and blow it and infiltrate the popular crowd and betray her best friend and lose her virginity in the course of a couple weeks.
She’s had it with this youth thing and believes doing everything at once, before experience comes at random and by accident, will give the learning curve a steeper incline.
At times recalling a tamer version of “Mean Girls,” “Girl in Progress” fares best when focused on Ansiedad, largely due to Ramirez’s terrific performance that underscores Ansiedad’s newfound confidence with her hidden frailty. She’s crying out for help and knows it, but that’s not enough to make her cry any softer.
Mendes, on the other hand, struggles to find the confused effort underneath Grace’s frantic schedule that leads to selfishness, whether it’s finishing the milk and cereal or neglecting her daughter to see a married gynecologist (Matthew Modine, I kid you not).
Writer Hiram Martinez goes amateur with bluntly articulated themes from Ansiedad’s English teacher (Patricia Arquette) and Grace’s lowly restaurant colleague (Eugenio Derbrez) with a crush. The lessons find their voice regardless. Frankly tackling young girls’ self-image issues, “Girl in Progress” possesses strong messages for kids as Ansiedad, who’d rather be named An because “some of us are trying not to be such immigrants,” struggles through a period that even supposed self-awareness can’t solve.
It gets better, youngsters, just not necessarily easier.
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