DVD Release Date: September 11, 2012
Theatrical Release Date: May 11, 2012 (limited)
Rating: PG-13 (for mature thematic elements, sexual content including crude references, and drinking—all involving teens)
Genre: Drama
Run Time: 90 min.
Director: Patricia Riggen
Actors: Eva Mendes, Cierra Ramirez, Patricia Arquette, Raini Rodriguez, Matthew Modine, Landon Liboiron

Art aimed at the younger set can easily fall short. Either the final result is sticky sweet in an attempt to be inoffensive, or, going to the other extreme, too dark in an effort to set itself apart from the squeaky-clean stereotype of children’s entertainment. Getting the right balance is the key to appealing to both kids and adults.

Girl in Progress is an example that offers both too much and too little to its core audience. Surprisingly mature in its depiction of teenage drinking and sexuality, the film also has a TV-movie quality that signals that, no matter how wrong the characters’ choices, everything will turn out alright in the end. A strange hybrid, Girl in Progress is alternately boring and envelope-pushing. On the plus side, the envelope-pushing is organic to the story of a young girl determined to come of age too soon. On the downside, the PG-13 material suggests things that might give pause to parents—even those parents who consider themselves open-minded about the challenges faced by teenagers.

Ansiedad (newcomer Cierra Ramirez) announces her intentions early in Girl in Progress: she’s tired of being a kid and watching the adults in her life—primarily her mom, Grace (Eva Mendes, The Other Guys), and her mom’s married boyfriend, Dr. Harford (Matthew Modine)—behave foolishly. “Being a kid is stupid, and I’m moving on,” she declares.

So when an English teacher (Patricia Arquette, TV’s Medium) introduces Ansiedad to coming-of-age stories—“the template for leaving your childhood behind”—Ansiedad takes an immediate interest.

She moves on by treating her best friend, Tavita (Raini Rodriguez, Prom), as disposable while she pursues a friendship with the school bad girl. Once she befriends that girl, Ansiedad surmises that she’ll be able to “possibly do drugs” and attend a party “where virginities are lost.” She declares that her deflowering is merely a rite of passage, or “metamorphosis” in the lingo of those coming-of-age stories she’s been reading.

To this point Girl in Progress has been intermittently witty, but its attempts to be edgy are held back by a bland approach to the filmmaking (not to mention a dreadful soundtrack). It’s hard not to wonder why the film wasn’t made for the small screen.

Things soon take a darker turn which, while not admirable in itself, takes Girl in Progress into territory that’s more unsettling—for its characters, and for its audience.