Cierra Ramirez – Girl in Progress

May 11, 2012 by  
Filed under Chaléwood, Interviews

The audition for her first feature film may not have been a typical one by Hollywood standards, but actress Cierra Ramírez is thankful for the way it all turned out.

“I actually put my audition on tape and sent it to [director] Patricia [Riggen],” Ramírez, 17, told me during an interview. “It was a little intimidating, but thankfully she liked me.”

Not only did Riggen like Ramírez, she cast her in the lead role of “Girl in Progress,” the follow up to Riggen’s 2007 film “Under the Same Moon.” In the film, Ramírez plays Ansiedad, a frustrated teenager who decides she will create her own coming-of-age story so she can fast forward her adolescence and become an adult.

During our interview, Ramírez talked about whether she has gone through her own rebellious phase as a teenager and how actress Eva Mendes, who plays her mother in the film, helped her through the acting process. “Girl in Progress” opens at theaters May 11.

Since you’re around the same age as your character Ansiedad, have you gone though any of the same things she has? Were you able to relate to her?

Well, I definitely related to the character in a sense that I, too, am a girl in progress. I’m still trying to find myself and my coming-of-age story. But Ansiedad is in a very big rush to grow up. That’s very unlike me because I am really trying to enjoy my teenage years. I’m trying to take it slow and not rush into anything.

Did you ever put your parents through the same rebellious phase Ansiedad puts her mom through?

(Laughs) Definitely not. I’m not as rebellious as her. I’m thankful I don’t have parents that I feel I need to get their attention. They’ve always been there for me.

What was your experience working with Eva Mendes?

I was a little nervous going into the film because she is so well known. But she made me feel right at home and treated me as her equal. She helped me through the process of becoming this character. What helped me a lot is that she’s the type of actress that likes to stay in character throughout filming. We really had fun on the set because her character is very childish. She was a really great friend.

Something the film explains are these rites of passage a teenager must go through before becoming an adult. Have you experienced a rite of passage yet? Did you have a quinceñera, maybe?

I actually didn’t have a quinceñera, but I did get to take part in one for my cousin. I’ve just never really been into parties. But the thing I’m most looking forward to in that aspect is getting my license.

What else is happening in your immediate future?

Well, I relocated to L.A. because I booked a role on the show “The Secret Life of the American Teenager,” which is super exciting. But I still want to continue with school. A dream of mine is to become an executive producer and writer. I would love if that ended up happening to me in the future.

Patricia Riggen – Girl in Progress

May 11, 2012 by  
Filed under Chaléwood, Interviews

After introducing herself to audiences in 2007 with the heartwarming drama “Under the Same Moon” (“La misma luna”), the story of a young son’s journey from Mexico to the U.S. to find his mother, director Patricia Riggen, 41, returns to theaters with a coming-ofage film about the conflict between a rebellious teenage daughter (Cierra Ramirez) and her preoccupied mother (Eva Mendes) in “Girl in Progress.”

During an interview with me last week, Riggen talked about the challenges she faced growing up as an independent spirit in a conservative home in Guadalajara, Mexico and what currently worries her about her own 4-year-old daughter.

Were you a rebellious teenager like the main character in “Girl in Progress?”

Well, I grew up in a very conservative family. I wanted to be independent. I loved going out to parties and dancing and being with my friends and boyfriend – everything a normal teen would do. I just wanted to live my life. I never got into anything really bad. That was already bad enough in a conservative family.

Do you think it was harder for you as a teen growing up in a Latino family?

Oh my God, yes. Especially in a very machista society like Mexico, women are meant to get married. That’s the goal in life. It’s not a bad goal, but I always thought, “Why not combine that with getting a career and being a professional?” That was my struggle. Thankfully, I was able to do that. I am a female Latina director. I am a very rare species.

If you could talk to your teenage self, what would you tell her?

I would tell her to be more self-assured and to enjoy life while it lasts, especially those younger years. Life is hard, but you just have to keep going and make the best of it.

It is just a coincidence that your movie about mothers and daughters will be released just in time for Mother’s Day weekend?

I didn’t know at first, so when they told me I thought it was perfect. What I like about the movie is that it speaks to moms and daughters and the struggles they face together. I don’t see that very much in movies today. I like that the movie is fun and entertaining, but at the same time it has a message about teenage pregnancy and bullying and how to understand each other. [Latinas] are an underserved audience. There aren’t very many movies out there that speak to us. It’s a perfect gift for Mother’s Day.

It’s interesting that a movie like this was written by a male screenwriter. How did that change the perspective of the story?

I think [screenwriter] Hiriam [Martinez] did a nice job. He has a very nice style and is very smart. I came in and gave the characters more of a female perspective, which is something I usually do with writers. I did the same with “Under the Same Moon” so I could bring in my own vision. Hiriam is a very talented guy. These movies are hard to make with Latinas and female main characters. They’re not easily financed. We’re lucky that we were able to make this one.

Girl in Progress

May 11, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Cierra Ramirez, Eva Mendes, Matthew Modine
Directed by: Patricia Riggen (“Under the Same Moon”)
Written by: Hiram Martinez (debut)

It’s a term every high school freshman English class has covered since teachers started passing out copies of “The Catcher in the Rye” and “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Whether reading Charlotte Bronte’s original novel “Jane Eyre” or watching director Cary Fukunaga’s dark and elegant film adaptation from last year, the coming-of-age story has outlined the transition from childhood to adulthood for a countless number of literary and cinematic characters over generations. Adding itself into the already crowded film genre is “Girl in Progress,” a sort of meta coming-of-age tale that attempts to stand out from the pack by making its lead protagonist self-aware of her own maturation. It’s a sometimes clever albeit limiting little concept from director Patricia Riggen (“Under the Same Moon”) and first-time feature screenwriter Hiram Martínez that never rises above the initial setup. There may be a serious need for more well-structured, Latino-themed movies of this brand (consider “Raising Victor Vargas,” “Real Women Have Curves,” and “Quinceañera” admirable examples), but “Girl in Progress” is sadly not one of them.

Meet Ansiedad (newcomer Cierra Ramírez in a likeable role), a frustrated teenager living in Seattle who is tired of being treated like a kid by her often negligent mother Grace (Eva Mendes), whose current relationship with a married doctor (Matthew Modine) doesn’t make her an ideal role model for her daughter. When Ansiedad (Spanish for anxiety) learns what a coming-of-age story is in school, she decides she will fast-track her way through adolescence by checking off a list of things she must experience to reach adulthood (first kiss, bad-girl phase, loss of virginity, running away to NYC, etcetera).

The approach “Girl in Progress” takes might’ve worked if it didn’t play right into the hand it wanted to avoid. By giving Ansiedad the freedom to map out her own transformative journey, there aren’t any scenes of insight or ambition except on an artificial level. Instead, Martínez fashions the script in the same manner Ansiedad would if she chose to ever document her unrealistic strategy on paper, cliché after cliché.

In one particular scene that had the potential of being a very sweet moment between mother and daughter, Grace kneels at the base of a bathtub to wash Ansiedad’s hair and have a heart-to-heart talk. The scene is interrupted by Grace’s ringing cell phone, which she promptly answers to unnecessarily reiterate how self-involved her character is. It’s only one example of the many pointless plot devices misused in “Girl in Progress,” a family film that defines the word epiphany so someone can actually have an epiphany. If that’s considered forward-thinking filmmaking, here’s to always staying a step behind.