(This is a fun writeup with loads of spoilers because we like those kinds of things here. This quarantine has gotten a hold of all of us, you know? So, laugh a little and wash your hands.)
Ah, the alleys of teen romance and angst. You know, Netflix has this teenage romance movie trope that it really likes to capitalise on. And let me tell you, it’s annoying. It’s the same movie over and over again, with a little twist here and there. But damn does Sierra Burgess is a Loser take the cake in the terrible list. First and foremost, this isn’t a review – it’s a 2018 movie and I’m not crazy to review it after 2 years. However, I hate this movie with the fire of a thousand suns and I will give you my opinion on this dumpster fire of a teen flick that is supposed to represent the “love” of an entire generation of kids – and why it is problematic on an absolutely different level.
We start off with…
Now, we all have been there, right? Having body image issues, crushing on someone who we think are out of our league – we’ve been there, and we have done that. So, this is where our lead protagonist comes in – Sierra Burgess. She’s the person we are all supposed to root for. She’s nerdy and geeky and she can cut down her bullies using her apparent wit. She, however, is not traditionally attractive. And let’s face it, who amongst us are, especially in high school? You would be scared if you saw me at that time. So, she’s not happy with how she looks because she is kind of chubby and her fellow students bully her for the same – especially Veronica (the typical mean girl). Her mom is a motivational speaker and her dad’s a writer who only talks in other writer’s quotes. Yeah, it is as annoying as it sounds.
Other than the general lack of “attractiveness”, she’s smart and very good with her studies and she wishes to get into Stanford. She also has a black friend (Dan), because you gotta mix it up, I guess? And he’s just there to off-set Sierra’s general irritable personality – that’s about it. Sierra also has this weird superiority that I have come to hate in people – the “I am not like other girls” trope. First off, girl don’t, just don’t, be like that. Putting other women down does not make you better in any way. Second off, you make it seem like you’re oh-so-better than everyone and are not like the other girls and two seconds later you cry about how unattractive you are. Every teenager does that – so what is it with the fake superiority? Like, Sierra’s depiction is so flat, she has absolutely no personality whatsoever – other than being a total buzzkill.
All of this rage I’m feeling, is like, not even from the first half of the movie. Like, the male lead hasn’t even come into the picture yet. Sigh. So, from minute 1 you hate the protagonist and the antagonist. The only person I seemed to root for is Dan. You know your movie is in trouble if the only character you root for is, well, a side character.
Catfishing my way into someone’s heart
Anyway, moving on. In comes the boy-next-door we love to love, Noan Centineo. His character, Jamey, is a jock who has a crush on Veronica and thus, asks for her number. However, Veronica being the “bad girl” gives him Sierra’s number. Afterwards, Jamey starts talking to Sierra, thinking that she is Veronica. The two start to have a bond and talk about “deep stuff” like what animals they would like to be and the stars and whatnot. At no point, during this time, does Sierra think that, oh hey, he thinks I’m someone else. I should probably tell him. Nope. She knows the truth yet she goes on talking to him without telling him what’s going on. There is a term for that. It’s called catfishing. And it’s illegal.
Sierra, however, being “different” does not stop there. She goes and gets Veronica into this grand plan and tells her that she will tutor her if she agrees to help her catfish Jamey. AND SHE AGREES. Okay, so not one person in this movie has a sense of morality. Like, you can’t just do that! But they do. And in a very bonding, catfishing way, Sierra and Veronica become great friends. I also thought that their friendship was better than the romance between Sierra and Jamey. And you know why? Because that “relationship” was based on a foundation of lies.
There’s more fish to be found
HOWEVER, if you thought catfishing was bad, honey you are about to get a treat. So as this catfishing is going on, Jamey and Veronica go out on a date because how long can you talk to each other on the phone, right? Sierra follows the pair around everywhere, like the stalker that she is. And after they’ve been to the movie and stuff, Jamey goes in for a kiss in an empty parking lot. And, oh my god, Sierra / Veronica make him close his eyes and Sierra kisses him. Like, my dude. That is NOT okay, because that is sexual assault. Jamey was going to kiss Veronica and instead kisses Sierra. That means that he did not know who he was kissing and maybe if he knew, he wouldn’t have kissed her or whatever. But the point here is, he did not give consent to kiss Sierra. And my god, the music in the background while this sexual assault was going on – made my blood boil to no avail. As I mentioned earlier, Sierra has this air of superiority about her. So, since she thinks that she wants to kiss Jamey, well, she gotta kiss Jamey and that’s that. Regardless of what he wants.
And all of this is somehow justified by her unattractiveness? Like, the world doesn’t owe you anything for being who you are. No one has it ideal, you know? But that doesn’t give you the right to be an out-and-out terrible and trash person. She lies to everyone around her – like, she says she likes Jamey but lies to her left right and centre. There’s also a scene where she meets Jamey and pretends to be deaf like. Who does that? Sis, that is a genuine problem that a lot of people struggle with. Is that supposed to be cool? Don’t do that. Ugh. I don’t know what the producers and director and like, everyone else thought about this whole thing. Like is it something they think people usually do, or do they want this movie to be an example for teenagers all around? Because that’s a terrible example to set – considering the movie came out on Netflix and it’s a very popular place for that age demographic.
Just some more fish
Okay so after that, Jamey kisses Veronica because well, he thinks they are dating. And Sierra sees that and she’s pissed. She has this weird sense of ownership over people even though she has been lying and manipulating every person in her life. But somehow that’s okay because she’s… ugly? Like, no, no it’s not. Trash behaviour is trash behaviour – regardless of your perceived problems. Afterwards, sitting on her high horse, she sabotages Veronica’s image infront of the entire school (by hacking into her Instagram account and sharing personal information, no less) and Jamey gets to know the truth about the catfishing. He’s visibly pissed – as he should be – and you think, finally! Finally, Sierra’s gonna get what she deserves, right? RIGHT?
She goes home and cries like the world is at fault. She cries to her parents that, “do you know how hard it is to be in high school and to look like this?” Sis, not one of the problems that you are facing right now is because of your perceived ugliness. It’s because you’re a trash person. You catfished a guy and sexually assaulted him and then totally burned your best friend. None of these things happened because you are ugly. You are a terrible person, and someone needs to tell you that.
However, no one tells her that. She cries some more and wallows in self-pity – and not for one moment does she realise that she should apologise or that she might be at fault. Nope. So, she makes a song and sends it to Veronica who somehow forgives her immediately even though Sierra never truly apologies for the things that she did. Also, the song is the most annoying thing ever, like, it doesn’t really say sorry. Just that, I am different and I need everyone to accept me. I am sure being different is fine, but that doesn’t mean you get to be a bad person using that as an excuse. Later, Jamey comes to her house, gives her a sunflower and kisses her like nothing happened. And I’m like, what the hell? The whole last scene made it look like he’s the one who is apologising for not accepting her creepy ways. Not only does it make it seem like men have no authority over their body and consent, it also makes it seem like women are always the victims, no matter what they do. And that is absolutely not true! It is also a dangerous thing to tells teenagers who really know no better and get inspired by these stupid teen dramas too damn fast.
So, what I think about the situation
Okay so here I am gonna talk about the conventionally unattractive person that Sierra is supposed to represent. For me, Sierra wasn’t ugly – she was normal. Like how people are in real life. Not like drop-dead gorgeous, but not Gollum either. She represents you and me and that’s great considering that she doesn’t go through a stupid transformation in the movie and set an impossibly high standard. But damn, the movie does so much worse with her character. Like, you could’ve done so many things, depictured genuine life struggles or whatever. Yet, you decided to make her a victim of her own doing who literally screws anyone and everyone over. And all because she’s “ugly”. Like, why. The world owes you nothing and thus you cannot sexually assault, harass, feign a disability or do anything like that because you think you’re ugly. That’s not how life works. You work with what you have.
The problem here is that teenagers are gonna think this is cute. I know because I’ve been there and it happens. Older me, however, realises the toxicity of this whole situation. And the thing is, there could’ve been so many ways her “unattractiveness” could’ve been dealt with like, they could’ve delved into the problems and come out with positive solutions or something. However, telling teenagers to catfish others and hurt them, is that really what we should be aiming for? Because that’s really problematic – especially more so because Sierra comes from a privileged background – a good home, a good school, a good friend. To not even consider those and just use something that no one has any control over in a way that can essentially ruin lives, that’s just nasty.
So, teenagers (and others) who are planning to use this movie as something to lean on – please don’t. Be nice people – trust me, that is what matters in the long run.