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AFI DOCS Review: In Rousing “LFG,” the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team Fights for What They Deserve

Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | June 24th, 2021

Film poster: “LFG”

LFG (Andrea Nix Fine/Sean Fine, 2021) 4 out of 4 stars.

By way of introduction, let me start with an absolutely terrible, mismatched analogy to what happens in LFG, the new documentary from wife-and-husband duo Andrea Nix Fine and Sean Fine (Life According to Sam). Even the misogynists in the room can relate, since my example is about a man. True or not, I remember an anecdote from the 1980s about actor Michael Caine, who was purported to have said, when asked why he worked so often, and sometimes in films of questionable quality, something like the following: “Well, I have the same lifestyle tastes as fill in name of A-list star, but only get paid a fraction of what he does, so have to make that many more movies a year.” Ha, ha! Funny, right?

Now apply that same concept to the United States Women’s National Soccer Team (USWNT), who win many more games and tournaments than their male counterparts yet still receive less pay per match, and you’ll understand the premise of LFG, which follows these outstanding female players in their fight for equality. Got that, sexists out there? They are the Michael Caine in this equation (and so much beyond), and unlike him, they aren’t in this battle merely to improve an already enviable lifestyle, but to earn what they are owed.

Megan Rapinoe in LFG. Photo credit: Sean Fine ©HBO Max

The title comes from the phrase that each of our interview subjects – a vibrant cross-section of the team’s leading players – utters in opening close-ups: “Let’s f***ing go!” Yes, let’s. It is well past time for the team, which has now won 4 World Cup titles (to the men’s zero) to be recognized with at least equal pay. Instead, as the film depressingly reveals, the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) has no intention of offering such, despite clear evidence that the team deserves fair compensation (not to mention that it is illegal to pay women less for doing the same work as men). USSF claims that the women have actually earned more than the men in recent years, but that is only because they win more frequently (see Michael Caine, above).

So, on March 8, 2019 (International Women’s Day), all 28 members of the USWNT filed a gender-discrimination lawsuit against the USSF, and we hear from not only from them, but from their lawyers Cardelle Spangler and Jeffrey Kessler. No one from USSF appears in the movie, except in incidental footage, and no wonder. When you refuse to negotiate in good faith, better to hide. Instead, we spend copious delightful moments with women such as Jessica McDonald, Samantha Mewis, Kelley O’Hara, Christen Press, Megan Rapinoe and Becky Sauerbrunn. Badass players, they are also highly articulate spokespeople for why they should receive more compensation.

Jessica McDonald in LFG. Photo credit: Sean Fine ©HBO Max

We follow them from their 2019 World Cup win (after which fans chant “equal pay” in solidarity), through their regular lives, to the 2020 SheBelieves Cup and into the pandemic era. It’s on International Women’s Day 2020, the start of SheBelieves, that the USSF, after a failed mediation, announces that its defense against the suit will be based on women’s inherent physical inferiority to men. Say what? You got that right. Fan and sponsor backlash follows, and both the President of USSF, Carlos Cordeira, and the lawyers involved, are fired. But still no equal pay.

Despite the ultimately frustrating outcome of the first stage of the lawsuit (a judge rejects the unequal pay claims), the struggle continues via appeal. We shall see what happens. But as Rapinoe and her teammates make clear, over and over, this is less about the present (though it is that, too) than about ensuring that future generations of players will not have to fight this same fight. We see, throughout this rousing, jaunty movie, how much of an inspiration these women are to all the girls and other women out there, and how they are perceived as role models around the globe. Come on! Let’s f***ing do this, and right away.

Still from LFG ©HBO Max

[LFG just played AFI DOCS, after first playing Tribeca, and starts streaming on HBO today, June 24.]

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Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator. A member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, he is Managing Editor at Film Festival Today; lead film critic at Hammer to Nail; formerly the host of the award-winning Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed, from Dragon Digital Media; and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice. In addition, he is a former cohost of The Fog of Truth, a podcast devoted to documentary cinema.

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