If you like movies with “pluck,” here’s one that uses the phrase “up by your bootstraps” more than once. And there’s nothing more plucky or All American than that.
“Women is Losers” is a tale of Latina struggle and overcoming discrimination, of making your own American dream, and of the way things were before Roe v. Wade.
Actress turned writer-director Lissette Feliciano doesn’t give herself enough screen time to do all of those themes justice. And she’s overly fond of having characters turn to the camera to deliver sermons when the “message” is already right there in front of us. But pluck wins out and makes this one a winner.
We meet Celina (Lorenza Izzo of “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood”) as she’s having a loud shouting match with her baby daddy (Bryan Craig of TV’s “Grand Hotel”) on the stoop in front of their San Francisco apartment building.
Mid-argument, she turns to the camera and suggests we go back to “the beginning” to see “how far we’ve come.”
The shouting match was happening in the early-70s. The story takes us back to the late ’60s, when Celina and her brassy buddy Marty (Chrissie Fit) were in Catholic school, dreaming big dreams, trying not to get too distracted by boys.
But their “older men” come home from Vietnam, and both wind up pregnant.
“We’re not going to let this ruin our lives.”
Two teenaged girls go to a “use the back door” dentist Marty’s beau has suggested for abortions. Only one walks out, because of how dangerous “back alley abortions” were, way back then.
“Women is Losers” lets us see the scar that stays on Celina’s heart from that experience, and her struggles to get a job without a degree, get an apartment as a single mother away from her judgmental and even cruel parents (Steven Bauer and Alejandra Miranda) and swim upstream against a society that was living down to James Brown’s soul hit warning.
“This is a Man’s World.”
Filmmaker Feliciano serves up gender discrimination in housing, employment and banking, in addition to the life Celina has sentenced herself to for one night of unprotected sex, a woman’s world in America pre-Roe v. Wade.
Characters occasionally “breaking the third wall,” a banker delivering his “I didn’t really say” his institution discriminates based on race and gender, Celina grousing about this obstacle or that one, is just one of the ways “plucky” translates as a little bit messy in “Women is Losers.”
The asides are often cute, as is a party homage to “West Side Story,” a cha-cha courtship dance set to a pre-Santana version of Tito Puente’s “Oye Como Va,” and a “How the Chinese Made it in San Francisco” history lesson, in black and white.
We glimpse an Applebees in an early ’70s San Fran street scene (it was born in Georgia in 1980), hear Donna Summer singing “She works hard for the money” a decade before she recorded it, and see all sorts of sexism, domestic discord and violence and other issues brought up without much more than a glancing treatment in the script.
Not every kindness shown Celina — her bank boss (Simu Liu) mentors her, teaches her the “Chinese way” of making it in America — seems to come with strings attached. But the ones that aren’t bizarre coincidences are.
But Izzo is terrific in a positive-role-model role, Bauer is amusingly vile (and believable) and “Women is Losers” hits home with its messages, even if it struggles a bit to tie it all into Roe v. Wade.
Rating: unrated, some violence, profanity, adult themes
Cast: Lorenza Izzo, Bryan Craig, Simu Liu, Chrissie Fit, Liza Wiel, Steven Bauer and Alejandra Miranda
Credits: Scripted and directed by Lissette Feliciano. An HBO Max release.