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Film Review: ‘Ovarian Psycos’

Joanna Sokolowski and Kate Trumbull-LaValle's documentary follows an L.A. Latina bicycling brigade.

ovarian-psycos
Courtesy of SXSW Film Festival

The young Los Angeles Latinas who ride together as “Ovarian Psycos” don’t appreciate being called a gang even in jest (they were unamused by an L.A. Times profile’s “chain gang” headline), and their wheels are of the Schwinn rather than the Harley variety. Still, there’s a definite bandana-wearing group swagger to this “bicycling brigade,” as well as a sense of empowerment for members who largely “have some kind of trauma in their lives.” Joanna Sokolowski and Kate Trumbull-LaValle’s documentary doesn’t plumb deep or long enough among these lives to achieve the full inspirational impact it’s aiming for. But offbeat subject and feminist themes should make this documentary viable for broadcast as well as fest slots targeting women’s and Latino issues.

Xela de la X founded Ovarian Psycos as “a refuge for the runaway, the throwaway” in East L.A. communities beset by domestic violence and other woes. She herself is a hip-hop artist and single mother determined to raise her daughter very differently from her own experience (we glean that she was sexually abused by her father and insufficiently protected by a now-contrite, born-again mother). Andi Xoch, another original member, makes “gender-bending toys” and other visual art. A newcomer is Evie, who works part-time while going to school. She needs the outlet that riding with the Psycos provides, but is worried about “spreading myself too thin,” not to mention her conservative mother’s disapproval.

No men are allowed on Psycos rides, a source of some grumbling in the city’s larger bicycling circles — but then, most of the cycling world (apart from the larger take-back-the-night-type “Clitoral Mass” events we glimpse) is dominated by the male sex. The Ovarians are very aware of the cultural and political feminist underpinnings to their collective role. And should they forget, all-too-typical news like that of a young woman’s stabbing murder by her ex-boyfriend would brusquely remind them. It’s noted that that victim’s family has to throw fundraisers in order to afford her funeral, adding poverty to the list of ails (abductions, rape, child abuse, et al.) endemic to these women’s formative communities.

Eventually, the cumulative stress from deep-seated issues lead Xela to drop out of the organization she founded. But that takes place off camera, and there’s not much drama captured among the other principals here. In the end, the documentary counts a little too much on a cool subject to provide a substantiality that isn’t really achieved in narrative terms. What’s here is interesting, but in the end feels a tad thin. “Ovarian Psycos” could have used more contextualizing, like historian Maylei Blackwell’s too-brief commentary about the Chicano Power movement that emerged from L.A. in the late 1960s. Bookending shots of protags cycling in iconic slow-motion feel like the kind of stagily triumphant imagery that needs to be more earned than this slim content manages after just 60-odd pre-credits minutes.

Packaging elements are otherwise well turned but, aptly, not too slick.

Film Review: ‘Ovarian Psycos’

Reviewed online, San Francisco, March 10, 2016. (In SXSW Film Festival — competing.) Running time: <strong>72 MIN.</strong>

  • Production: (Documentary) An ITVS presentation of a Sylvia Frances Films production. Produced by Joanna Sokolowski, Kate Trumbull-LaValle.
  • Crew: Directed by Joanna Sokolowski, Kate Trumbull-LaValle. Camera (color, HD), Michael Raines; editor, Victoria Chalk; music, Jimmy LaValle; sound, Sokolowski, Trumbull-LaValle; sound editor/re-recording mixer, Joe Milner.
  • With: Xela de la X, Andi Xoch, Evie, Maylei Blackwell.
  • Music By: