Told by a different storyteller — perhaps in a movie with subtitles and scenes in a Balkan café — Girl in Progress would qualify as a tragedy, a horror story, an upsetting drama of child abuse. Here’s the cautionary tale of an overworked teenaged girl (Cierra Ramirez), neglected by her self-absorbed, single, working-class mother (Eva Mendes), who embarks on a self-destructive plan to speed up her journey to adulthood and escape her mother’s chaotic house. Were this movie given the Romanian New Wave narrative treatment, it might win a prize.
But spiced up with commercial-grade Latin-American content (including a scene or two of warm, Spanish-speaking familia time) and starring the glamorous, likable, and marketable Cuban-American Mendes in a pretend attempt at looking haggard, this inauthentic teen tale, with its cosmetically softened edges, serves neither the young people nor the Mendes fans for whom it might be intended. There’s a particularly bum message about the lives of blue-collar women in the subplot involving Mama’s affair with the husband (Matthew Modine) of a woman whose house she cleans. Apparently, marital betrayal is the price of employing someone so pretty in the low, if honorable, job of cleaning toilets. D