Girl in Progress could be seen as an announcement of Eva Mendes as a serious actress. She is without question well cast as Grace, the immature single mother raising a 13-year-old girl in Seattle. She is barely making a living as a crab shack waitress, dating a married man (Matthew Modine) and completely not there for her daughter, who is going through more changes per day than she can emotionally or physically keep up with.
Cierra Ramirez is uncanny as Ansiedad, who routinely feels she is out-maturing her mother. The title of the film is brilliant as it reflects both women’s journey in director Patricia Riggen’s film. Even though Mendes is the star, Ramirez is a scene stealer. The young actress shows a range of performers three times her age. Many thespians have tackled teenage angst and anguish over the years, but few with the piercing power of Ramirez.
Girl in Progress does suffer some growing pains of its own. The film isn’t the smoothest through the second act. It is a piece of work with solid bookends and a so-so middle. The storyline is of Ansiedad finding her identity through a series of steps she believes is right, thanks to the classic coming-of-age stories extolled by her English teacher (Patricia Arquette). Her instructor may have highlighted a means to an ends through featuring literature's great child-morphs-into-adult tales, that is far from what she meant to inspire. As such, the film advertises where Ansiedad’s journey is going. That reveal hurts the overall arc of the story.
As Mendes told us in our interview, “A mother-daughter relationship is so complicated.” That is perfectly modeled throughout Girl in Progress and it is a fantastic movie to arrive as Mother’s Day is Sunday. Daughters and mothers will find something relevant throughout the picture. Even though their situation may seem unique in this movie, Grace and Ansiedad’s bond is not unlike the classically complicated relationship that is the matriarch and her female child.
Is Girl in Progress Mendes’ announcement? Almost. She is quite good in this unique role for her. She is right there, taking another step towards the elusive category of go-to Hollywood actress.