'Girl in Progress' Tries to Be a Sweet But Realistic Coming-of-Age Movie

Girl in Progress struggles to assert itself against a screenplay that centers on an astonishing, miscalculated contrivance. It's rare to see a movie with such potential undermine itself so fully.

Girl in Progress

Director: Patricia Riggen
Cast: Eva Mendes, Cierra Ramirez, Matthew Modine, Rani Rodriguez, Patricia Arquette, Eugenio Derbez, Landon Liboiron
Rated: PG-13
Studio: Lionsgate
Year: 2012
US date: 2012-05-11 (Limited release)
Official site

Somewhere inside Girl in Progress is a sweet but realistic coming-of-age movie about a teenage girl and her irresponsible mother. But this movie struggles to assert itself against a screenplay that centers on an astonishing, miscalculated contrivance. It's rare to see a movie with such potential undermine itself so fully.

Before the plot kicks in, the core characters are compelling. Grace (Eva Mendes) had her daughter Ansiedad (Cierra Ramirez) at 17, and now scrapes by as a single mother, working as a waitress at a crab shack and as a maid for rich white families to pay the bills at Ansiedad's private middle school in Seattle. This isn't their home town: as Ansiedad explains in a class presentation early in the movie, she and her mother have moved around often, usually on Grace's whims, following various bad relationships to their inevitable conclusions. Dr. Harford (Matthew Modine) fills the bad-relationship slot in Seattle. He's married with children, but Grace remains smitten, hoping that he'll fulfill his wishy-washy promise to leave his wife. Such lack of commitment brings out the teenage flakiness in Grace, who happily takes off with Dr. Harford and tells her daughter not to wait up.

These details, like the scene where Ansiedad bangs on her mother's door and yells at her to turn down the music blasting from the other side, quickly establish the mother-daughter role reversal. It's not subtle, but it is intriguing, and well played by newcomer Ramirez and Mendes, an actress with underrated comic skill. Their relationship is allowed some complexity: Grace is by turns insensitive, impulsive, and irresponsible, yet she's a hard worker, and treats her daughter not with contempt but a kind of affectionate puzzlement ("How nerdy!" she exclaims when she sees Ansiedad's chess medal). Grace may just barely avoid neglectful mother status not because she's particularly responsible, but because Ansiedad is a good, smart kid -- her daughter's sweetness gives Grace some extra leeway.

Ansiedad turns out to be too smart for her own good. She listens intently to an English class lecture on coming-of-age stories from her teacher Ms. Armstrong (Patricia Arquette), a scene that would be uncomfortably on-the-nose even if it stood alone. But in this movie, Ansiedad decides that a coming-of-age story is exactly what she needs to escape her annoying home life, and attempts to engineer one for herself. With the help of her pudgy best friend Tavita (Rani Rodriguez), she creates an elaborately art-directed chart on her bedroom wall, tracking the various steps she will need to achieve adulthood. (Oddly, though we see Ansiedad conducting library research on coming-of-age tropes across cultures, these steps seem gleaned more from contemporary YA books and movies rather than a larger study of the form.)

Even for an adolescent girl's misguided plan, this idea doesn't make much sense. Ansiedad's life with Grace motivates her to accelerate the growing up process, but if anything, that life already includes more adult responsibility than she prefers; their reversed roles couldn't be clearer if they swapped bodies. It seems like she should pine for a more carefree childhood, not her own adult life. If screenwriter Hiram Martinez and director Patricia Riggen intend this contradiction as an ironic grace note, the irony gets lost amidst Ansiedad's tortured logic.

Instead of further exploring the mother-daughter relationship, then, Girl in Progress proceeds with meta and cringeworthy scenes of Ansiedad acting self-consciously dorky so she can then self-consciously rebel and fall in with a bad crowd, and hopefully lose her virginity -- all while self-consciously explaining what she's doing to everyone in her life. Perhaps there is a version of this story that could reach this toxic level of self-consciousness and still work. But the screenplay is almost fascinatingly tone-deaf to human behavior. Early in the movie, Ansiedad must emphatically remind Grace: "I'm a teen!" Has any actual teenager in the past three decades ever self-identified as a "teen"?

More broadly, the movie's treatment of middle-school girl politics is laughable (which is not to say comedic). At one point, when Grace needs intel on which bad girl she should befriend, Tavita nonsensically reports "hacking into" a popular girl's Facebook account, presumably to find out who the popular girls most disdain and/or fear. But she offers no actual explanation that makes this strategy more effective than looking around the school cafeteria. It's a small detail, but so unnecessary and bizarre that it calls attention to itself.

Grace's story works a little better, or at least it's less hobbled by the movie's awkward hook. But it also meanders through repetitive scenes with Dr. Harford and the shy busboy Ansiedad nicknames Mission Impossible (Eugenio Derbez), obviously preferring him as a maybe-father figure to the smarmy doctor. Grace is less convinced, and one of the movie's few charms as it goes along is its lack of interest in constructing a traditional love triangle with an obvious solution.

The rest of the Girl in Progress, though, doesn't lack for obvious solutions. The coming-of-age-while-talking-about-coming-of-age narrative is too stupid to result in anything but lessons learned and understandings reached, further squandering the stronger moments between Mendes and Ramirez. Girl in Progress is well-meaning and good-hearted. It is also, in the end, a stunning miscalculation.


From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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