It’s been over two weeks since Sierra Burgess Is a Loser premiered on Netflix. And since then, I have debated whether or not I should even attempt to parse the pure fuckery that unfolded before my eyes in just under two hours.
But lo and behold. Here I be.
If you are a fan of the aforementioned movie, I should warn you right now that I am not. In fact, I’m firmly in the “who the fuck greenlit this?” camp. Mostly because the film completely wastes a pretty stacked cast and toes the line of queerbaiting by leaving space for leads Sierra and Veronica/Ronnie to maybe get together, but doesn’t capitalize on this — but also because a movie that I thought was gonna be a palate cleanser from something like Insatiable turned out to be, in a way, worse.
And here are some reasons why:
1. The film doesn’t know what year it wants to be based in. Bigoted “humor” and all.
One of the most puzzling things about the film is that it makes a lot of its clothes and aesthetics 80s-inspired, and the plot of the film reads like it came out of some bad 90s rom-com, and yet everyone is walking around with iPhones and hacking their “friends’” Instagram accounts (definitely post 2000 inventions)—which all translates into a movie that probably could have done extremely well in 2003/2004.
But since this is clearly 2018, 14 years later, it comes off as extremely out of touch. I mean, even its edgelord humor makes no damn sense. Bullies are denoted in the film by their homophobic and transphobic humor, talking about “trans experiences” and accusing people of being lesbians like it’s worse than being a leper.
I mean, watching it in real-time felt I was watching a movie written by a White woman who had a horrendous high school experience in the late eighties or nineties that they need to unpack in therapy rather than on television. So imagine my surprise (not) that that turned out to be the case and said White woman defended all her horrendous choices because of the fact that she too experienced these things and also because of the film’s paltry and stereotypical “diVERSiTY” that includes the funny Black dude friend, snobby skinny White girl, assorted Brown friends, and the bitchy Asian girl.
And of course, the film tries to redeem itself in the purest sense by making its protagonist fat…which doesn’t do much because it’s used more as an excuse to be awful—which brings me to my next point:
2. Sierra Burgess is perhaps the worst romantic comedy/drama protagonist I have witnessed in the last decade.
Again, if you thought Insatiable was doing the most in all the wrong ways, only Sierra Burgess manages to go beyond that by being all-around awful and using fatness and her perceived undesirability as a catch-all excuse note for all the terrible things its protagonist does. Insatiable at least doesn’t pretend to be groundbreaking/not awful while Sierra Burgess serves its awfulness on a silver platter with the nonchalantness of someone who is clearly unstable.
I would retell the whole movie if I truly wanted to re-traumatize myself, but some highlights of how terrible Sierra happens to be include:
⁃ Catfishing a dude (Jamey) for an extended period of time.
⁃ Kissing said dude without his consent
⁃ Starting a “friendship” with Veronica/Ronnie purely for exchange purposes
⁃ Hacking said friend’s Instagram and embarrassing her because she had the caucasity to go along with her unstable friend.
⁃ Faking being deaf (which is ten times worse because Jamey has a deaf sibling…who she interacts with. Poorly).
⁃ Blaming her mom for her being fat.
⁃ Not apologizing for any of this and thinking that writing the equivalent of a 50-cent Sara Bareilles song is enough for everyone to forgive her (and it’s worse because everyone just…does).
There’s more, but again, I’m not game for being re-traumatized. All of these things are separately terrible in the film, but together they not only point out the unbearable Whiteness of the film but they also reduce Sierra to being a typical fat protagonist who hates herself a lot for being fat, is auto-jealous of the skinny popular girl, and who has no major qualities/character traits besides being fat (as great as This Is Us is, the show also falls into this trap and that’s particularly not good since Chrissy Metz [who plays Kate], plays Ronnie’s fat and miserable mother in this film.). And smart. I guess.
The Whiteness is two-fold, mostly because all of these things shouldn’t be forgiven by way of a wack ass song anyway, but they definitely wouldn’t be cute or forgivable of a Black or Brown girl who decided to terrorize her friends, family, and crushes in this manner. But it’s also because of Sierra’s potent sense of White woman entitlement that can be felt throughout the entire movie. She believes she deserves to get into her dream college based on smarts alone, despite the fact that her peers are doing hella extracurriculars to get in. She believes she deserves Jamey’s love, despite that love being under false pretenses. She believes that she owes no one in this film any honesty whatsoever because it would block her from attaining what she wants.
And of course, when this all backfires, she lashes out, betrays her new friend Ronnie, almost gives Jamey a concussion and literally blames her mom for her being fat. As if her mother singlehandedly picked out some gene that made her fat. I’m also very concerned about this trend, because This Is Us portrays a similar contentious relationship between mother (Rebecca) and daughter (Kate) because the mother happens to be “conventionally” attractive.
This part was particularly disturbing to me because by all accounts and purposes, Sierra’s mom raises her to be a confident, self-assured [White] teen girl—fatness and all. Even with some added cheesy, daily affirmations to boot.
And that still isn’t enough for her. Nah, she leans on her insecurity, entitlement, and perpetual victimhood (which doesn’t surprise me considering how racialized fatness is–but that is a conversation for another day) to be the most terrible protagonist I’ve seen in a while and give us superbly pissy fat representation.
Which is terribly unfortunate, really. Because not only could this movie have been better, but fat folx (and this cast) definitely deserve better than a film where a White woman enacts revenge-lite plots and malicious depraved and immoral acts in a fatter body.