Ansiedad (Cierra Ramirez) is a latchkey teen in Seattle whose immature single mom (Eva Mendes) spends her free time bedding a perpetually smirking gynecologist (Matthew Modine). When Ansiedad hears a lecture on rites of passage in English class, she becomes obsessed with how the trope works, constructing a big board of the genre’s cliches and assuming the persona of chess nerd and authority-hating rebel. Hopefully, the young woman thinks, one of these guises will attract a boy to take her virginity; and having thus entered adulthood, she can then skip town and embark upon a hero’s journey to NYC.
Uneasily poised between glib irony and earnest melodrama, Patricia Riggen’s coming-of-age tale is as scattered as its manic pubescent protagonist. The teenager-as-actor idea is intriguing, but any satiric possibilities are blunted by the film’s relentless sentimentality and mother-daughter hysterics; Riggen’s lethargic direction, which favors a monotonous procession of static, centrally framed compositions, doesn’t help matters in the slightest. Ramirez plays out her character’s chameleonic identity crises in the aggressively plucky Veronica Mars mold, while Mendes turns the mother into a sympathetic wreck, her ADD-like restlessness the mark of a woman clinging to her antic youth in order to escape the suffocating anxieties of the present. The latter’s performance, both comic and melancholic, achieves a bittersweet complexity the rest of the film struggles to capture. R. Emmet Swenney