Don’t let the title fool you. “Women is Losers” is a winner – one of the best films of 2021 that you never heard of. It is a unique testament to the strength and resilience of women of color. Flying under the streaming radar, it is an indie gem that made some of the film festival circuit, including the Mill Valley Film Festival. Debut writer/director Lissette Feliciano creates a world in 1960s San Francisco in which her protagonist, Celina (Lorenza Izzo), a once dutiful Catholic high school girl, becomes inspired to make more of her life than her social limitations dictate. Her plans initially get derailed when both she and her best friend become pregnant. When her friend becomes the tragic victim of an unsafe abortion, Celine decides to move forward with her pregnancy, with little to no support from her parents or the young father who has recently returned from Vietnam and found himself in another relationship. Not surprisingly, being a single Latina mother, makes obtaining higher education and financial success seem all but impossible.
Despite these educational and emotional setbacks, Celina remains determined to get away from her abusive father’s household, break her family’s cycle of poverty, and make a better life for herself and her son. It would seem that her new bank teller job could be the launch pad to better things, especially when Gilbert (Simu Liu), the bank manager seemingly takes an interest in her professionally and offers free financial advice and career advancement. Ultimately, his motives become suspect and he proves more of a hindrance than a help, with his sexual advances and professional threats, but Celina finds a way to make use of the wisdom he has already imparted.
On the surface, the premise of “Women is Losers” could seem a downer, but it is anything but that. This is largely due to the presentation and execution which is uplifting, creative and wholly engaging. More than all that, it is unexpected. Feliciano knows when to turn up the drama, without being depressing, but she also knows when to be poignant without being sappy or melodramatic. Likewise, she unabashedly weaves in politics and social issues, using the opportunity to educate the audience as well as entertain. All the while she seems self aware that this is a small film, with a small budget that can take creative chances. Shot entirely in San Francisco, she also wonderfully enlists cinematic and editing techniques similar to Adam McKay, a la “The Big Short.” This includes fast takes, talking to the camera, and asides with graphics and information about politics and history.
The little-known to unknown cast are solidly good, with a notable performance by Izzo in the lead. She’s in almost every frame holding her own with gusto and a wry sense of humor that’s a sheer delight! Although she has other roles under her belt, this should serve as a fantastic “calling card” project for her, with hopes of seeing her in much, much more. Also impressive, is her co-star, Chrissy Fit, who plays her best friend, Marty. Chrissy is best known for her small comic relief role in “Pitch Perfect.” For “Women is Losers,” she makes the most of her brief screen time, and really shows her acting range. While this film touches, sometimes explores, sensitive topics, like domestic violence, racism and sexism, it manages to be interesting and life-affirming. It’s well-worth seeking out and spreading the word about.