Women is Losers is a resourceful drama that makes good use of the little it was given. Written and directed on a shoestring budget by Lissette Feliciano, Women Is Losers is a self-referential, fourth-wall-breaking feature that relies on relatability to get its point across. A first-time feature for Feliciano, the film has a scrappy film school feel to it which adds another layer to the enduring message: Women is Losers, but sometimes we can be winners too.
The story follows Celina (Lorenza Izzo) from her days as a promising math phenom in Catholic school to her journey just trying to survive in 1960’s San Francisco. There are two ways to watch this film. You can either take it at face value and allow the very heavy-handed history lessons about how things were (and still are) pretty terrible for women, especially those in disenfranchised communities and communities of color.
Or you can consider the meta of it all. A movie, about women losing propriety of their homes, their bodies, their children, their jobs, everything of worldly value, makes apologies for existing in its state before the movie even begins. There’s a special kind of irony to appreciate when Celina takes off her sweater and puts on her school uniform jacket to play a student back in her high school. She’s vulnerable and open and asking to accept her limitations and the artifice of the production that parallel the artifice of what typically defines women, especially at that time.
She’s expected to be a good girl and stay home and study. She asks her mother to go to a party and her mother asks if she wants to be a sl*t like other women who go out at night. It’s a kind of inherited trauma that Celina responds to. She’s always had a different path in mind, one that involved a career and using her knowledge to further herself. Her rebellious nature means she goes to the party anyway and she ends up getting pregnant by her boyfriend, Mateo (Bryan Craig), a Vietnam vet who just returned from the war. After finding out Celina was pregnant and originally planning to give the baby up, Mateo turns his back on her, joining her family in their discontent with her “choices”. Her father is abusive and her mother is complacent and Celina is doing everything she can to keep her head above water, including working two jobs and paying over half the rent.
She gets a job at a bank as a typist when the bank manager Gilbert Lee (Simu Liu) offers her mentorship and earning opportunities. It’s not without expectation and Celina navigates her way through “everyday sexism”, machismo, and needing to figure out exactly how to get what she wants in a world that doesn’t think she should have anything. It’s an especially daunting task since she’s also a single mother. Having Women Is Losers told from a Latinx perspective is mostly due to the inspiration for the film being Feliciano’s grandmother, but the stories are pretty prolific through just about every marginalized community, especially through the women of those communities.
Every issue touches women universally and there are a lot of issues in the film. We’re presented with abortion, female earning power when compared to male’s, abusive relationships, single parenting, religion, and a whole host of other crosses females have to bear. We’ve come a long way, but there’s still so much further to go.
At first glance, breaking the fourth wall can be a bit jarring, but the interjections really do serve the narrative. It may seem heavy-handed and it kind of is, but it’s also effective. Gilbert and Celina ride a trolley car while Gilbert explains the treatment of the Chinese community during the California gold rush. It’s a story of triumph, but also underlines the frustration of trying to make it when you’re in a world designed to work against you. It also speaks to the intersectionality that exists within the movie. Gilbert is a Chinese American, but he takes advantage of Celina, an unsuspecting Latina woman. He also helps her, but this relationship is just as telling as when Celina finds herself in a place of power when a Black man comes into her bank needing assistance. It shows the interconnectivity between marginalized groups and how we’re just all trying to make it.
Another interjection speaks plainly about the perception of Celina’s decision to get an abortion as “the easy way out”. She goes on to ask if she is the villain, or was she never prepared to take the hero’s path?
She finds her way through more error than trial and while it’s served to make her a stronger, independent woman, it’s also made her wary and distrustful. Celina ages a decade in five years and the effect is only amplified when you realize that the triumphant ending of the film is the beginning of a right that is still being stripped from women today.
Women is Losers is a film that could be written off as well-meaning, but ultimately just a life in the day of Celina. But I believe there’s more to it than that. This movie is a history lesson. It pays homage to a culture while at the same time holding its feet to the fire. There’s nothing more damning than the truth and Women is Losers pulls no punches. There’s as much beauty as there is brutality and there are phrases packed with the weight of a 10,000 men. At one point Celina says to her young son, “How do I keep you from turning into one?” the one being one of the many men in her life who failed her. It’s heartbreaking and quiet, but speaks volumes.
Despite the apologia at the beginning of the film, Women is Losers is really a well shot, well-directed film. Some creative choices were made for the passage of time and interjections and they were pretty effective and didn’t derail the film. It holds up as a quirky love letter to the tenacity, strength, and spirit of women.
Women is Losers was made available to stream on HBO Max, Monday, October 18, 2021.
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