‘Girl in Progress’ Review: Mom and Daughter Race to Come of Age

Eva Mendes and Cierra Ramirez star in tale of a lousy mom and a precocious daughter, "Girl in Progress'

Just in time for Mother’s Day, “Girl in Progress” is providing illustrative lessons on how to be the antithesis of an exemplary Mom.

The movie’s not-so-model single mum eats the last of the cereal and milk before her adolescent daughter comes down for breakfast, is sleeping with a married man and leaves the kid alone overnight while crashing drunk at a new boyfriend’s house.

She then has the nerve to tell her daughter, “You need to grow up!”

In “Girl in Progress,” the daughter is trying to do exactly that, way too fast and way too soon for her own good.

This slight independent film, an adolescent coming-of-age drama, has its moments and works hard at adding texture, but it feels more like it belongs on TV as a Lifetime or ABC Family movie.

The name star here is Eva Mendes, who plays the neglectful Grace, a harried single Latina mom in Seattle who is holding down two jobs, as a waitress and a cleaning lady, and is dating a married doctor (Matthew Modine).  All of which means she has little time to spend paying attention to, much less nurturing, Ansiedad (Cierra Ramirez), her bright, precocious daughter.

When Ansiedad’s English teacher (Patricia Arquette) gives a lesson on coming-of-age novels, explaining that a protagonist must go through multiple steps on a journey to reach adulthood, a light bulb starts blinking brightly for the movie’s young heroine. She devises a speeded-up coming-of-age plan of her own, which includes becoming popular, losing her virginity and moving to New York City, and puts it into motion.

At which point, the movie’s central question becomes: will Grace herself grow up in time to take on her true responsibilities as a mother, thereby allowing Ansiedad the chance for a normal adolescence rather than an accelerated and dangerous one?

The film, directed by the Mexican-born Patricia Riggen (“Under the Same Moon”), features lively performances from Ramirez, a talented youngster, and Mendes, who tamps down her innate vamp and suggests she’s ready for bigger challenges than the ones Hollywood mostly has given her heretofore.

“Girl” will most likely be of interest to Moms with tweener and young teenage daughters. Going to the movie together will provide a doorway for them to discuss all sorts of issues of concern to both.

Maybe it’s time the MPAA’s ratings board devised a new rating specifically to designate this kind of film. I’d suggest rating it MD-A, for Mother and Daughter Appropriate.