Have you ever become instantly smitten with a film from the first few moments when it just felt like you’re vibing on the same level? With the rhythmic sounds of Oskar Cartaya’s “Get Up (Muévete)”, the audience is treated to a shot of a beautiful clear sky day as clothing, one article after another, flies through the air, revealing and concealing the names of the cast and the writer/director, as the sound of an argument grow louder and louder. There’s a playfulness right from the go of Lissette Feliciano’s directorial feature debut Women Is Losers, which it never really abandons, even when the film explores every day sexism, racism, and the extensive and often unrecognizable signs of the patriarchy. Executed like a stage play wherein lead actor Lorenza Izzo (Once Upon a Time in … Hollywood) frequently breaks character, along with others in the cast, to highlight how the social and capitalist systems at place in the present have been skewed in the favor of men, specifically Caucasian men, for centuries. This may not sound like your jam, but from the opening moments, Feliciano’s Women Is Losers will charm you, too, pulling you into her world, encouraging you to laugh, cry, and rage along with her.
Over the span of six years, Women Is Losers follows Celina (Izzo), a young San Franciscan girl, as she strives to create a better life than society demands she has simply because she was born a woman. She will battle oppression in the form of an overbearing father, an absent partner to her son, misogynistic bosses, and a system designed to make her fail. Despite each growing obstacle, Celina refuses to acquiesce to what others define as the “right thing” for her, following her path, attempting to make a better way.
Those in the present who proclaim the Era of Subjugation is over need only look to the past to recognize that the laws of society aren’t quite caught up with where the populace is. In 1771, The Act of Confirm Certain Conveyances and Directing the Manner of Proving Deeds to Be Recorded was passed in New York which required a husband to get the signature of their wives before he could sell her property. It would be another 149 years before the 19th Amendment was added in 1920 enabling women the right to vote, and another 54 years before the Equal Credit Opportunity Act was passed in 1974 to prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender from banking institutions. For each law passed, those in control of society found ways around each change so that they could maintain the status quo. Sometimes it’s with a hyperawareness of their action, like a father believing his daughter is beneath him or a banker refusing an application due to homophobia, and then there’s casual sexism, like asking a woman if they’re saving for a wedding or telling a man with their son that they’re such a good dad. Knowing this, the fact that Feliciano drew inspiration for the title of her film from Janis Joplin’s song of the same name, “Women Is Losers,” won’t surprise. It’s a bluesy song extolling how it matters not what women do, men will always come out on top. Piece by piece, action by action, these seem infinitively weighted and impossible to overcome. But they can and have been overcome, each small victory and new section of road the next generation can solidify and improve upon.
This is the inherent message within Feliciano’s Women Is Losers and it comes through in every frame, whether the story is celebrating youth and possibilities or recognizing that the trials of the fictional tale are not only real but present now. To make the points without killing the momentum of the narrative, Izzo and a few other fellow cast members will address the audience or influence the visual presentation of what they say. Think of it like the chorus in a Greek play taking a moment to fill in the blanks before the action resumes. Every single break only serves to keep things moving and to help bridge the gap between the illusion of the story and the reality from which it’s inspired. The words spoken aren’t just informative, but convey the appropriate emotion for the character as well. So when Izzo calls the audience’s attention to the casual sexism in Simu Liu’s (Kim’s Convenience) Gilbert’s questions over lunch, or when the nameless loan officer (Malcolm Madera) elaborates to the audience why he wouldn’t be approving Celina’s loan application, it all happens as naturally as if speaking to someone in the room. And we are. To borrow a phrase, we, the audience, are in the room where it happens every time Celina is under-estimated, undermined, or unappreciated by simply being born a woman. Society continually throws landmine after landmine, restriction after restriction, at her, creating a cycle of punishment for non-existent crimes.
Before you get to thinking that Women Is Losers is an absolute downer, Feliciano’s film is far more positive and empowering that the above may imply. Calling it “scrappy” may give it an underdog feel, but given the fact that the film makes a point in the introduction to call-out its lack of budget for things like lighting (it’s beautifully shot by cinematographer Farhad Ahmed Dehlvi), costumes (each outfit from costume designer Liz Baca appears intentionally designed to speak to the character more than the period), or making sure that the background matches the film’s time period (what’s up, Applebee’s!), descriptions like scrappy imply a certain resourcefulness, an unwillingness to bow before someone else’s idea of what victory or high achievement should be. Personally, while Feliciano may not have been able to find room in the budget to ensure that every background object and individual was period-appropriate, the lack of visual consistency between Women’s period and the year the film was shot makes the narrative even more powerful. The fact that the film makes a point to look back at how Chinese immigrants were treated in the building of the railway from the perspective of the late 1960s while the background is blatantly from the modern era hammers home the notion that the segregationist, racist, and sexist issues of the past remain very much in the present, whether your perspective is of the characters or of the actors. As the story comes to its very natural eruption, if you’re not raging along with Celina, you may not have been paying close enough attention.
Like Celina herself, Women Is Losers is more than one thing. Sure, it’s an emotionally powerful exploration of the continued ways in which society never changes as greatly as we’d like; but, it’s also a beautiful, almost magical, look at a period of time rarely seen from the female perspective. Even further, from a Latinx perspective. The music and community are of the culture, allowing for a depiction of an immigrant experience during a time when the ‘60s Revolution is almost always depicted from a Caucasian perspective. This is all set up by that opening scene I mentioned where Feliciano introduces Celina, her husband Mateo (Bryan Craig), and the narrative conceit that allows the actors to engage the audience. It is layers upon layers upon layers, each one more fascinating and engrossing than the next. Though Celina’s journey is fraught and full of despair, thanks to a mesmerizing performance from Izzo, an arresting script from Feliciano (not to mention some brilliantly stage direction), Women Is Losers ultimately comes out a winner. One you’ll want to reengage with again and again.
Screening at the 2021 SXSW Festival March 16th, 2021.
For more information, head to the official Women Is Losers website.
Final Score: 4.5 out of 5.