SXSW Online 2021, as in previous iterations of the annual film festival, showcased films that challenged viewers. Women is Losers, by producer, writer, director Lissette Feliciano, both entertained and disappointed.
The filmmaker displayed extraordinary talent, but some of her creative decisions undercut the potential power of the film.
Women in Their Place
The film takes place in San Francisco, beginning in the 1960s, where two Catholic high school girls attempt to deal with the challenges of adolescence. The film’s protagonist, Celina, played by Lorenza Izzo (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood), is mentored by her best friend, Marty. Marty, played by Chrissie Fit, knows, or thinks she knows, how to get boys to do what girls want.
A child of the 1960s myself, and having been married to an Hispanic lady for 35 years, immersed in her large extended family, I was impressed by the performances of both actresses. They seemed so real, capturing the tone of the era and the spirit of the culture. I felt like I knew them.
The story follows Celina through heartbreaks, conflicts with her parents, moving on from school and finding success in the workplace. We need to give Feliciano praise for her direction, helping actors portraying a variety of ethnic groups give convincing performances.
“Breaking the fourth wall” means the moment, on stage or in a film, when the actor turns to the audience and addresses them directly. This is often used for great comic effect, as in Deadpool or in mockumentaries like What We Do in the Shadows.
The film’s first scene, in which Celina captures her significant other cheating on her, not only breaks the fourth wall, but pulls the camera back to reveal actors making a movie. The film then goes back to standard feature film style.
The film is so well done, that I forgot about this initial distraction, until the fourth wall was broken in later scenes.
If the film was a comedy, this would have been OK. It was, however, a serious look at the problems faced by independent women in decades past.
Hammer to the Head
All good films have a point of view. Effective films express this by letting you observe the consequences of the characters’ actions. The more subtly this is done, the more effective the message. This filmmaker was as subtle as a hammer to the head.
The film evokes the current popular cultural proposition that masculinity is toxic, and that this is worst in white men.
Celina’s boyfriend Mateo, played by Bryan Craig, is promiscuous and suffering from PTSD. Her father, played by Steven Bauer, embodies the worst traits of any overly macho Hispanic man you could possibly imagine. Her employer, Gilbert, who tries to sexually harass her, is Chinese, and played by Simu Liu. “White guys” appear as policemen, doctors, and bankers.
The banker, in one of those break-the-fourth-wall moments, addresses the audience with remarks about how he consciously discriminates against women, especially unwed mothers.
Towards the end of the film, both Celina’s father and the sexually harassing employer have moments when they, to an extent, redeem themselves. The white guys? No way.
The title of the film, Women is Losers, comes from a Janis Joplin song of the same name. Lyrics to that song include these lines about men: “Whoa I say they’ll hurt you, they’ll desert you, They’ll leave you and never be here for more.” Both the song and this film create an unrealistically negative picture about men. There are some of us who respect women and do our best to make sure that women are winners.