Runtime: 1 hour 24 minutes
Director: Lissette Feliciano
Stars: Lorenza Isso, Steven Bauer, Alejandra Miranda, Chrissie Fit, Bryan Craig, Liza Weil, Simu Liu, Alessandra Torresani
By Peggy Marie
It’s the early 1960’s in San Francisco, California, and the social rules of the time, laws, cultural norms, and obstacles are set to keep women “in their place,” which, as the old saying goes, is essentially barefoot and pregnant. It’s worth pointing out that a woman at this time could not open a bank account on her own or get a credit card in her own name, let alone get birth control unless married. All this aligns with a Janis Joplin song released around the same time with the same title as writer/director Lissette Feliciano’s film “Women Is Losers.” There couldn’t be more fitting way to put meaning and a story to lyrics than this drama. Pulling a story from an old Joplin song might seem odd, but when you hear and listen to the words, you understand exactly what direction Feliciano’s film takes.
Celina (Lorenza Isso) is a 17-year-old Latina Catholic schoolgirl living in a household with an abusive alcoholic father Don Juan (Steven Bauer), and her mother, Dona Carolina (Alejandra Miranda) who is sadly compliant in the violence. Along with her best friend Marty (Chrissie Fit), Celina goes to a party for her boyfriend Mateo (Bryan Craig), who has just returned from service in the Vietnam War. A minor indiscretion and being told “nothing can happen the first time” results in Celina getting pregnant.
Until that moment, Cecila’s two favorite things are school, where she is somewhat of a math whiz, and having fun with Marty. But after losing Marty to a back-alley botched abortion by a dentist, of all people, Celina realizes she has no option but to accept the shame from her community, school, and family. Cue to nine months later, Celina gives birth and starts to raise her son on her own, with no help from Mateo.
Being from such a structured, strict, religious community and having not finished her high school education, Celina struggles at a menial job to earn a living and put away money for her son’s future. She is constantly under the eagle eye of her supervisor Minerva (Liza Weil), who tries to find fault in everything she does. But eventually with her strong work ethic, she catches the eye of her superior Gilbert Li (Simu Liu), who as a Chinese immigrant, has his own story as well.
While Gilbert promotes her from typist to teller at the bank, he gives her a helping hand as well, teaches her how to investing in land and housing. There is, of course, an ulterior motive, which Celina learns this the hard way. She also earns the respect of Minerva, who also defies community standards at the time with her own interracial relationship. During all of this, Mateo and Celina reconnect and marry, although ultimately unsuccessfully, as he is not only jealous of Celina’s work ethic but goes back to his old cheating ways with Lois (Alessandra Torresani). Seemingly the only way out for Celina is divorce, or she will fall into being something she does not want be — exactly like her mother.
Isso truly makes the character of Celina come to life, giving her all with every emotion, and making us want to laugh, cry, and fight right beside her. The supporting cast of Craig, Chrissie, Miranda, Weil, Liu are all fantastic and only add complexity to this colorful story. There is one scene at the beginning a la “West Side Story,” a dance-off that is truly a choreographed wonder to watch and shows the range of this cast.
“Women Is Losers” also speaks volumes about the true struggle of women, especially women marginalized because of race, color or religion — someone is always trying to hold you back. For every step taken forward, five are added to reach the next level. But there is always a price, and while this story ends well, so many do not. If there’s anything to take away from this film, it’s the celebration of Roe v Wade at the end and how this right must never be taken away again, as more women like Marty will pay the price.
Review screening : Courtesy of 42 West PR and SXSW Film Festival