Substandard coming-of-age movies often appear to be working their way through a checklist of clichés common to the genre. But unlike Girl In Progress, not many feature a precocious Juno of a protagonist (Cierra Ramirez) who literally makes a checklist of clichés and tropes she plans to encounter en route to coming of age, from dumping her chubby, geeky best friend to alienating her teachers to experiencing an awkward first kiss to losing her virginity in a shameful, embarrassing manner. Ramirez plots out her loss of innocence with the foresight and methodical planning of a military campaign, but Girl In Progress is ultimately less interested in subverting the clichés of the genre than in recycling them. It wants audiences to know it’s in on the joke though it’s not always apparent that there even is a joke in the first place.
Ramirez stars as a hyperverbal smartass who decides to embark on a quest to lose her innocence after listening to inspirational teacher Patricia Arquette discuss the coming-of-age genre during class. The inveterate good girl goes bad in the most calculated manner imaginable while her spacey-but-loving single mother (Eva Mendes) experiences some growing pains of her own—dallying with a married doctor (Matthew Modine) and trying to impress her boss at the crab shack where she waitresses by taking over while he’s away competing in what is apparently the Super Bowl of crab cook-offs.
Eventually Ramirez discovers that growing up can’t be planned, diagrammed, or forced, but Girl In Progress remains so artificial and self-satisfied that it’s seldom infected by the messiness and unpredictability of reality. Ramirez’s strategy is less a path to adulthood than a recipe for becoming even more monstrous and insufferable than teenagers are generally allowed to be, though of course it leads to some requisite emotional development, little of it earned or organic. Girl In Progress is self-aware enough about coming-of-age movie conventions that it must understand, on some level, that it’s a fairly dire example of the breed.