'Señorita 89' Series Review: An Infuriating and Compelling Story

 senorita 89 movie review

Señorita 89, is an original series for the Spanish-language streamer Pantaya that explores the dark nature behind beauty pageants in which women are literally manufactured to win the crown. The dramatic thriller series set in 80s Mexico is a powerful tale of women banding together against a corrupt and unjust society. The series is both infuriating and compelling to watch, and you'll be hooked from the start.

In Señorita 89, 32 beauty pageant finalists come together at a private estate, La Encantada to be groomed for Mexico’s grand prize of Miss Mexico. Concepción (Ilse Salas), the matriarch of the beauty pageant and owner of the La Encantada brings a team of expert makeup artists, trainers, and even surgeons to make-over these women over a 3-month period. The female-lead series stars Ilse Salas, Ximena Romo, Bárbara López, Natasha Dupeyrón, Leidi Gutiérrez and Coty Camacho. Señorita 89 is produced by SPENCER director Pablo Larrain and Juan de Diol Larrain.

The finalists hail from all over Mexico, from different economic backgrounds including an indigenous woman. However, under all the glamour is a dark world in which women are literally shaped into baby dolls for men to gaze upon. Women also play a part in transforming the finalists and leading them astray as well. The pageant is essentially a front for sex trafficking these women to rich and powerful men although that is not the matriarch's intention. In the first three episodes, it's unknown whether Concepción is unaware of the seedy aspect or she turning a blind eye? She is fully aware, however, that a plastic surgeon is Frankenstein-ing women into the perfect Miss Mexico.

Directed and written by Lucia Puenzo (La Jauria), the series is a powerful tale of injustices towards women, especially in a country like Mexico which is plagued by the disappearances of thousands of young women every year, and the politicians sit on the sidelines. The filmmaker handles the subject matter beautifully in empowering the women versus portraying them as mere victims who need a savior. The main characters rely on each other's strengths to survive.

Director and writer Lucia Puenzo doesn't present a one-sided story. Men aren't the only aggressors in the series. Women, as well, have a hand in turning over these women to the wolves. The female characters are so well-written and represented in a diverse fashion that it leaves you feeling satisfied that someone finally captured the essence of how women deal with adversity in a realistic way. 

In our interview with the filmmaker, Puenzo revealed a group of women writers from all walks of life sat through writing sessions outlining the characters and the story. That care and realistic portrayal is very evident in Señorita 89. 

After watching the first three episodes out of eight, I am hooked. The first episode is a slow burn but it soon picks up halfway through the second show when an incident changes the main characters' lives and they must rely solely on each other to survive.

Every character is set up with a compelling story and backstory that reveals how they got there as a finalist. Some are more desperate than others to win the crown to better their family's lives. The women from underserved communities are the easy targets for the men and women to take advantage of. Barbara Lopez's character can only function with drugs to numb herself from the daily grind of the grooming and mingling with men as required by the pageant. One of the finalists is an indigenous woman whose not really wanted there but kept around for sake of appearances. She, however, becomes the rock of the group because she's known injustice her whole life. Another contestant comes from Juarez and is forced to stay at the estate after she's told of a family emergency. There's a lot at stake for these women.

The look of the series is dark and grainy with an 80s aesthetic that aligns with the sordidness of the story. The lead actresses, Leidi Gutierrez, Natasha Dupeyrón, Coty Camacho, Barbara López, Ximena Romo, are all very compelling and deliver heart-wrenching performances conveyed through their expressions and body language. 

The first two episodes of Señorita 89 will premiere exclusively through the Spanish streaming service Pantaya on February 27th in the U.S. and Puerto Rico, and followed by a weekly episode every Sunday and the full season of eight episodes will be available for a binge on April 10th.

After its run on Pantaya, hopefully Señorita 89 will become available on an English-language streaming channel for more eyeballs to give this very important story a wider audience.

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