Early on in “Women is Losers,” the main character, Celina Guerrera (Lorenza Izzo) — after her husband’s white lover tells her to “speak English” during a confrontation — breaks the fourth wall. She gives a brief history lesson, changes her wardrobe and, joined by the cast and crew, apologizes for the low budget production. If the viewer can look past this, Celina promises a story about “pulling yourself up by the bootstrap when all you have left is your skin.”
Directed by Lissette Feliciano, the movie, which gets its name from a Janis Joplin song, follows Celina from high school to adulthood, as she navigates an abusive household, an unplanned pregnancy and the challenges of being a working woman in the 1960s. Despite having no family support and a partner, Mateo (Bryan Craig), struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder after fighting in the Vietnam War, Celina faces each new obstacle with grit and aplomb, living up to her surname, Guerrera, which means warrior.
The breaking of the fourth wall is most effective when used to point out moments of subtle sexism, like when Celina’s manager, Gilbert (Simu Liu), calls her smart for saving instead of spending her money on “magazines and makeup” like other “girls.” Celina turns to the camera and says, “He’s being nice, so I’m going to give him a pass.” This scene reflects the regular psychological disruptions women experience.
But more often the direct addresses feel overly didactic, seeming to prioritize changing minds over telling a story. The film is strongest when it hones in on Celina’s loneliness and loss, and on her relationship with her best friend, Marty (Chrissie Fit). It’s arguable that Celina’s emotional distance is a true reflection of how working class women manage their feelings in order to cope. But it could be dissatisfying to a viewer craving to see women’s interior lives; their pain rather than their resilience.
Women Is Losers
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 24 minutes. Watch on HBO Max beginning Oct. 25.