Friday, May 11, 2012

Girl in Progress [2012]

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB ()  Roger Ebert (1 1/2 Stars)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing -
Roger Ebert's review -

Girl in Progress (directed by Patricia Riggen, screenplay by Hiram Martinez) is a film that many people will not understand.  Yes, the characters are often painted in broad strokes.  Yes, the film is about a Hispanic single mom Altagracia/Grace (played by Eva Mendes) raising a teenage daughter Ansiedad (played by Cierra Ramirez) and not particularly well by anyone's including the two characters' own standards.

Still it makes for a very interesting "Mothers' Day" story especially for families where things have not necessarily gone all that well.

And the film could offer well-intended but often clueless non-Hispanics an opportunity to understand _a little_ (and again, _just a little_) the challenges of growing-up Hispanic in the United States today.

A first challenge is simply with names.  In the very first scene of the film, Ansiedad a rather angry Hispanic teenager, asked to do a presentation about someone she considers a "hero," quite sarcastically chooses her mother, who she introduces on the first slide of her her power-point presentation as "Altagracia" but continues "Since no one could pronounce her name, she quickly changed her name to 'Grace' which her mother then couldn't pronounce."  For the many non-Hispanics who would never know this, Altagracia is the name of Catholic Patroness of the Dominican Republic "Nuestra Señora de la Altagracia," the point being that Altagracia/Grace's mother was Hispanic but not from Mexico or Puerto Rico or Cuba but probably from the Dominican Republic, with it's own history, it's own culture, it's own things to be proud of, among them being the devotion/Basilica/traditions revolving around "Nuestra Señora de la Altagracia."

So from pretty much Day 1, Altagracia/Grace had to make decisions about her identity that non-Hispanics or at least those from non-immigrant families generally do not have to make.  Interestingly, Altagracia/Grace, gives her own daughter a rather strange Hispanic (though no longer religious) name "Ansiedad" (which means Anxiety... a name that would be strange in English as well).

In subsequent slides in her Powerpoint presentation, Ansiedad then goes through the various states that she's lived with her mother during her life, moving each time on account of one or another of her mother's various boyfriends, each time her mom having been lied to (and letting herself be lied to).  Near the end of the list, Ansiedad says with the sacrasm that only a teenager could intone "My mother even dated an astronaut.  Of course he turned out to be one of those astronauts who will never actually make it to space ..."

Clearly Ansiedad doesn't think particularly highly of her mom, and as often is the case, with some reason ... Ma's current "boyfriend" is a doctor, married, a gynecologist, for whose family she cleans (among other things ... toilets).  Ma has a second job, working as a waitress at a local Crab Shack.  And yes, on the other side of the coin, Ma is desperately trying to continue to make enough money to continue to send Ansiedad to a school where she can make Powerpoint Presentations ... (Any parent struggling to make their kids lives a little better could understand ...).

But there it is.  Then a well-meaning English teacher, Ms Armstrong (played by Patricia Arquette) decides to give Ansiedad's class an open ended assignment about writing a "coming of age" story.  Ansiedad, who's already experienced more than her share of both anxiety and suffering in her life, goes to the library and onto the internet to read-up about what a coming of age story entails.  Since she's already had enough suffering in her life as it is, she simply puts together a flow-chart for "coming of age" so that she could just "come of age" and be done with it.

Among the steps on her flow chart were "dumping her best friend" (in Ansiedad's case a cute and ever smiling if somewhat chubby Hispanic classmate named Tativa (played by Raina Rodriguez) to "become friends with the popular kids," "losing her virginity (preferably to some jerk)" and finally 'leaving home."  All these are, of course, rife with consequences, intended and non.  But remember, Ansiedad's childhood has thus-far been awful, and she just wants "grow up" and get on with it ...

And of course, she's not even realizing that she finds herself choosing to follow exactly the same hardened path as her mother did.  And her mother, who, yes, has been constantly sidetracked by one boyfriend or another, still believes that despite her absence (often enough just to make enough money to give her increasingly ungrateful daughter "a better life") has become exactly the same kind of mother that she herself had run-away from.

This is a Hollywood movie in the end, so it does wrap-up well.  But as I describe the film ... especially if some of this begins to touch home ... bring some kleenex ...

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