Friday, May 11, 2012

Moms & daughters, Hispanic-American style: Patricia Riggen's GIRL IN PROGRESS

Patricia Riggen's new movie GIRL IN PROGRESS begins with a school pre-sentation by our heroine (one of them; her mom is the other) that is very funny and pretty smart. I wish we could have seen and heard the remainder of this little lecture (her abashed teacher cuts it short), for most of what follows in this feel-good-against-all-logic, Lifetime-TV-level movie bounces from the merely overdone to the garishly sentimental to the ridiculous. This is too bad because, when last seen theatrically on these shores, Ms Riggen gave us the also sentimental but keenly observant, funny, exciting, finally trans-cendent mother-son immigration movie Under the Same Moon.

In between times, Ms Riggen (shown at left) directed one of the episodes of the very good, Mexican multi-tale roundup, Revolución, and a TV movie called Lemonade Mouth. If, as I suspect Girl in Progress becomes her most successful release box-office-wise -- it's got the marketing-maven studio supreme, Lionsgate, along with Hispanic arm Panteleon, at the distribution helm, plus three personalities popular with Hispanic audiences (Eva Mendes and Eugenio Derbez for the adults and Cierra Ramirez for the kids) -- TrustMovies will be happy for her success but saddened by the downgrade in the quality of the work on display. Well, concessions must be made to the powers-that-be, I suspect, and so this movie -- unlike, say, the current and so much better, feel-good, mother/daughter/school-themed Norwegian film Turn Me On, Dammit! -- gets there by hook or (mostly) by crook.

Telling the story of a Latina teenager named Ansiedad (the  beautiful, chirpy Ms Ramirez) determined to bulldoze her way into adulthood by any means necessary, the movie takes us along on the girl's very odd journey, which was unintentionally inspired by remarks made in class about the coming-of-age novel by her more than capable English teacher (Patricia Arquette, below, left).

Along for the ride comes her sweet and pudgy best friend (Raini Rodriguez, below, right, and older sister of Modern Family's Rico Rodriguez) and various and sundry other school classmates. On the adult end (and that's stretching it, given the idiotic behavior of most of the adults on view) are mom (played by Ms Mendes), her current (and very married) lover and part-time employer played by Matthew Modine (shown at bottom, left, looking old and terrible and probably wishing he were in some other movie), and an employee at the crab shack restuarant where mom works, played by the versatile and talented Señor Derbez, who is as bad here as he was good in Riggen's earlier Moon movie.

There seems to be little chemistry between the adult actors, or for that matter between Mendes (below, right) and Ramirez, who act together like a mother and daughter who've just been introduced. Everyone mugs and carries on to near-distraction, and the improbable story (which initially works OK as fodder for a high-school rom-com) soon moves from improbable to impossible.

For the most part Girl in Progress seems a movie at war with itself. Ms Riggen's touch with everything from pacing to performance is noticeably off, unless it is simply the screenplay by Hiram Martinez that is lacking in credibility and charm. (There's plenty of ersatz charm on view, as well as ersatz everything else.)  And yet, the movie will occasionally snap to -- like the condom that hits the electric light -- from time to time when a moment, occasionally an entire scene, works correctly. And of course it is interesting to be able to view a little of the growing Hispanic-American community in Seattle. But this only makes the whole thing even sadder. Well, onwards and sideways. Ms Riggen's next project is said to be the remake of the charming Argentine movie Elsa & Fred. This time with Michael Caine and Shirley MacLaine attached to star, replacing the irreplaceable Manuel Alexandre and China Zorilla. We'll see...

Meanwhile, Girl in Progress, 90 minutes, open tomorrow, Friday, May 11, for Mother's Day weekend. Click here to see all playdates in the greater New York City and New Jersey areas.  TM thinks that the movie is also opening nationwide but can find no verification of that anywhere on the Lionsgate or Panteleon web sites.

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