Content warning for domestic abuse.
Writer-director Lissette Feliciano’s “Women Is Losers” tells a necessary story — the story of a young woman of color determined to rise above poverty and build a fulfilling life for herself and her son. Set in 1960’s San Francisco, the film touches on both the delicately pretty and tragically ugly parts of womanhood, courageously portraying the latter head-on with rarely seen determination and stridence. While the film commendably tries to tackle sensitive issues, such as sexism, racism, domestic abuse and abortion, the film’s ambitions are unfortunately not matched in production quality; the lack of smooth storytelling slowly loses its believability as audience investment gradually chips away.
“Women Is Losers” follows Celina (Lorenza Izzo) through her time in Catholic high school and into adulthood. Her resilience and independence are tested as she survives living with an abusive father, finds herself with an unplanned pregnancy as a teenager and struggles to climb the ranks in the workforce as a woman of color without a college degree.
The most shocking travesty, however, is when Celina’s high school best friend, Marty (Chrissie Fit) dies due to complications from an unsafe abortion. Feliciano’s unapologetic inclusion of an incredibly real yet seldom heard story is admirable, but her message is a little too on the nose and the film’s delivery a little too rough around the edges to reach its full potential.
Something immediately off-putting about “Women Is Losers” is seeing Izzo and Fit, both in their 30s, play high school students. This jarring contrast between the actors’ and characters’ age doesn’t necessarily break these scenes, but it certainly takes audiences out of their world. The acting throughout the film also felt half-hearted, leaving viewers wanting more than they get in the particularly emotional, heavy scenes.
The film suffers from some poor acting, but the actors’ suffering may be the result of more obviously lackluster writing. The dialogue often feels choppy and unnatural, and the escalation of conversations seems rushed. The film seems to believe — or at least, hope — that more lines come across as emotional kickers than actually do. The poorly paced conversations and structure make it difficult to know how to react when the story supposedly veers off unclear expectations.
The characters seem somewhat two-dimensional and none are adequately fleshed out. This is particularly noticeable with Marty, Celina’s mother, Carolina (Alejandra Miranda) and Celina’s misogynistic boss, Gilbert (Simu Liu). The first two suffer from egregious, uniquely patriarchal problems that open up opportunities to explore the causes and ramifications of such traumas; unfortunately, neither Marty nor Carolina feel like ideas and symbols, rather than fully formed, complex human beings. Gilbert, while deserving of less sympathy, would also have benefited from being given a more thoughtful backstory that would elevate his character beyond an empty vehicle of sexism.
The overarching issue with “Women is Losers” is its lack of subtlety. Although it is by no means telling a demure or lighthearted story, viewers may often feel more like they are being lectured, rather than invited to empathize with the hardships and celebrate the triumphs of a resilient minority woman. With some adjustments in style and writing, it seems very possible to tell an equally thorny, real story that comes across in a more immersive fashion.
A defiant story about overcoming prejudice and rising above poverty, “Women Is Losers” remains worthy of the viewers’ time despite its production shortcomings. Although the film may not be a winner, it is a powerful reminder that women are.
Joy Diamond covers film. Contact her at [email protected].