Set in 1960s and 1970s San Francisco, Women Is Losers, cannot be faulted for its ambition. With a higher production value than most first features, Lissette Feliciano’s drama uses fourth wall breaks early and often, having a host of characters speak directly to audiences. Most of these monologues show a level of awareness from Feliciano, who also penned the script. She’s aware of the difficulties her protagonis faces as a Latin women living during that era. In fact, she wants us to be aware as well, giving us tell-tale signs of persecution, including highly dramatic versions of scenes that have been played out for decades.
Lorenza Izzo, playing Celina as a high school girl through adulthood, shows that she’s up to the task. She gives a committed performance seeking to improve the script’s failings and avoid the stereotypical traps laid out by Feliciano. Women Is Losers confuses in that way. The film and its director understand the well-worn scenes they’re depicting, yet continue with ham-handed attempts at explaining racial injustice, workplace gender disparities, and Asian-American’s role in founding San Francisco.
Beginning with Celina’s time in high school, Women Is Losers follows her through an immediate pregnancy from her boyfriend who returned from the Vietnam War, the death of her best friend due to an illegal abortion, and the raising of her son in varying apartments around the city. Escaping her abusive father in the process, Celina traverses the city with her infant son, taking a job at a bank and getting mentored by Gilbert (one of the newest Marvel additions in Simu Liu), a man who clearly has intentions outside of the workplace.
And that becomes the hurdle that the film cannot clear: its sheer lack of subtly. In order to tackle such a wide array of topics plaguing several minority groups, Feliciano doesn’t allow her scenes to play out with any sort of natural timing, rushing interactions and confrontations between those that come into Celina’s life. Time moves quickly in Women Is Losers, as a walk down the hallway can lead Celina from high school into motherhood into the workforce. Without any reference toward her age, or the age of those surrounding her, it becomes more difficult to track her personal and professional maturation.
Instead, the film becomes a cycle of people coming into Celina’s life only to disappoint her, as she learns another important lesson about the way the world works, most of which have been seen in film and television for decades. Latinx stories should be told, and Feliciano’s first feature gives space to a group that has been underrepresented in film for too long, but in trying to wade through the different degrees of discrimination and harship faced by Celina, the director never dives fully into one issue. Despite its assured style and confident direction, the narrative itself lacks the depth needed to examine these broader societal problems. The supporting cast does an admirable job to match Izzo’s star performance, with Liu, Bryan Craig, Chrissie Fit, and Liza Weil filling bit roles. The film does feel entrenched in a certain era, and the film exists as a beautiful portrait of San Francisco. Feliciano’s intentions for this film have value, and the “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” mantra followed by her young, Latina, leading lady is commendable. Women Is Losers strains itself for emotional and narrative profundity, though, becoming a film that plays into clichés while actively trying to address them.
This review is from the 2021 SXSW Film Festival.
Photo courtesy of Look at the Moon Pictures