It only took me about two minutes to fall completely in love with writer/director Lissette Feliciano's Women is Losers, an HBO Max-bound indie screening this week at the 30th Anniversary Heartland International Film Festival in Indianapolis.
It's in those two minutes that we're introduced to the snarky yet pointed Celina (Lorenza Izzo), a Latinx daughter of immigrant parents who lets us know up front that what we're about to see may be a little rough around the edges but, hey, so is life.
Watch it anyway.
Having premiered at SXSW, Women is Losers has picked up several fest awards on its way to a distribution deal with HBO Max including winning the American Independents Competition at Cleveland International Film Festival along with jury awards for narrative feature at Mississippi's Oxford Film Festival, Cordillera International Film Festival and the Bay Area Filmmaker Award at Sonoma International Film Festival. The film is an absolute winner and is possibly made even better by its budgetary constraints and the creative way that first-time filmmaker Feliciano works around them.
Set in San Francisco in the 1960s, Women is Losers is reportedly inspired by pieces of Feliciano's mother's own life experiences and it's that personal connection to the film that also drew lead Lorenza Izzo (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Knock Knock) to the film as lead and an executive producer. Indeed, every frame of Women is Losers feels deeply personal even when we're tapping into Celina's practically lyrical snark.
While there's an abundance of humor to be found in Women is Losers, in its beating heart the film is a powerful drama about a woman in the 60s facing the trifecta of life's fate-sealing obstacles - being a female, of color, and also a single mother - and her determination to do whatever it takes to rise above the oppression of poverty in an effort to forge a better path for herself and those to come after her. It's a simple, perhaps even familiar, story that is engagingly brought to life by Feliciano's to the point script and Izzo's wonderful performance.
Women is Losers kicks off with a 16-year-old Celina finding out she's pregnant with a subsequent walk of shame down the hallways of her Catholic high school practically fairytale like. She decides to keep the baby, a decision more than a little inspired by her best friend's death during an abortion gone wrong. Unfortunately for Celina, her beau (Bryan Craig) is of the pump and dump type and soon she finds herself working whatever jobs she can find to support herself and her baby. She finds a few successes along the way, though a lot more failures until, at least it seems, she finds a mentor in Gilbert (a pre-Shang Chi Simu Liu) who eagerly mentors with healthy doses of sexual harassment along the way. This is wonderful work by Liu in a relatively brief performance.
Truthfully, Women is Losers is a story we've all seen before but Feliciano masterfully makes it all feel fresh and new and consummately engaging. This is a personal story and that's exactly how it feels from beginning to end. It's the relationship between Celina and Liza Weil's Minerva that ends up being the film's most compelling. Initially seeming adversarial, Weil's Minerva is a world-weary professional who's worked in banking long enough to recognize Gilbert's plays and the patriarchal world that allows it all to breathe freely. It's a complete joy watching Izzo and Weil breathe life into this relationship and allow it to blossom.
Indeed, it does blossom.
Women is Losers is a powerful yet remarkably entertaining film about what it means to be a woman in a society that devalues a woman's worth, contributions, and potential. It's stark at times, though one can't help but feel like the coping skills Celina uses to survive are the same ones used day after day after day by women around the world. This is an ambitious film for sure. It's not easy to produce an indie period drama on a limited budget, however, through creativity and absolute integrity Feliciano and her cast and crew have done an extraordinary job with it all without ever compromising their message.
Lensing by Farhad Ahmed Delhvi weaves together a tapestry of intimacy amidst the universality of everything that unfolds here. Frederik Wiedmann's original music for the film companions the film quite nicely. Facing the challenge of creating a period piece with limited means, the production design work of Susan Alegria is inspired and the costume design of Liz Baca is immersive and filled with rich humanity.
There are those rich and wonderful films that too often fall by the wayside after their festival journeys have ended. It's exciting to see that a film as wonderful as Women is Losers will find its way to a wider audience after its festival journey has ended and more people will be witness to this story that deserves to be seen. A wonderful debut from Lissette Feliciano featuring a stand-out lead performance from Lorenza Izzo, Women is Losers is one of the true indie gems from the 30th anniversary Heartland International Film Festival.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic