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22 Aug 2012

Girl in Progress

Girl in Progress is a knowing satire of films populated by cute, knowing tykes wise beyond their years

Director: Patricia Riggen

Screenplay: Hiram Martinez

Cast: Eva Mendes, Cierra Ramirez, Russell Peters, Raini Rodriguez, Patricia Arquette, Matthew Modine

American filmmakers seems to be lagging behind popular and critical opinion that precocious, socially awkward child characters in serious movies are annoying, indicative of lazy scriptwriting, and need to be seen less. Girl in Progress does feature an annoyingly precocious, socially awkward child character but at least she's the foundation stone of a film that doesn't even take itself seriously and broadly hints it doesn't want the audience to take it seriously. Ansiedad (Cierra Ramirez) has a Gilmore Girls relationship with her mum (Eva Mendes). Mum being a female version of the obnoxious and irresponsible man-child character that Adam Sandler plays (but still loveable because she's such a ditzy Mexican character stereotype), the daughter takes on the adult role at home even with great intellect, she's not really that mature.

No one at that age ever is anyway but Ansiedad hatches a scheme. She will accelerate her rite of passage into adulthood and win freedom from her childlike mother. The gimmick is the teenager is savvy enough to know what a rite of passage is — from reading too much literature and possibly watching too many films. The twist is that she's wrong genre savvy. Her deliberate attempts at engineering fake crises (like throwing her only friend under the bus) and painful, scandalous experiences (hanging out with the wrong crowd and doing illegal and immoral things), turning the markers on the road to adulthood into a checklist of key performance indicators, never turn out the way she expects. As they say, real life has a habit of not playing out like the stories you read even if those stories are narrations of life. What this film does is to make the failures spectacular, and spectacularly funny.

At its most sublime, Girl in Progress leverages on the existential comedy of its wrong genre savvy protagonist, on our recognition of the dissonance between knowing and experiencing, planning and enacting, narrative and plot. There is more accessible comedy too, with Eva Mendes and the rest of the cast hamming up as stereotypical Mexican immigrants trying to make ends meet while aiming for a better life, but hampered by cultural mindsets that aren't quite suited to success in their adopted country.

Girl in Progress is a rare film that takes an annoying and cliched premise and turns it on its head.

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