Romanticised Abuse: SIERRA BURGESS IS A LOSER


Our goal is to raise awareness and draw attention to romanticised abuse in films, books, etc, in order to fight it
- Join us! Start posting whenever you want.
- Share examples of romanticised abuse you've seen in books or films - doesn't even have to be a whole book or film; simply one scene is enough, if there's an instance of romanticised abuse in it.
- Please link to my blog as the original creator.
- This is not only about romanticised abusive relationships. It is about romanticised sexual assault, rape, and harassment, as well.
- Please consider the following statement a trigger warning: this blog series explores and draws attention to themes of abuse in fiction. I will discuss sexual assault, abusive relationships, and rape. I will infrequently explore those topics in depth as the fictional example requires it. Please read on with care. These subjects could be triggering.




On Friday night I watched the latest teen rom-com to hit Netflix: a gender-swapped adaption of the play Cyrano de Bergerac, titled Sierra Burgess is a Loser. I knew nothing of the story, but I’d seen the hype and so was intrigued. After the amazingness that is To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, I was optimistic to watch another rom-com flick.

You can read the story synopsis HERE.

Initially, the movie didn’t raise any red flags for me. It had its flaws – weak dialogue, some weak acting, a very messy plot and poorly developed story – but nothing struck me as being particularly wrong. It was, at best, a light romantic comedy with a relevant message, if somewhat poorly conveyed. But since Friday I’ve thought about the movie constantly. I’ve thought and thought and gone over the story and the characters’ actions. Then, it hit me. So I wrote this blog post to outline what I believe are serious, unsettling problems stewing in this film.


CATFISHING:

Definition: 'lure (someone) into a relationship by adopting a fictional online persona.'   

The film revolves around this plot-line. Sure, maybe the whole message is supposed to be about body positivity etc etc, but how it’s trying to preach that is through the premise, the premise that is essentially: catfishing.

It’s creepy. It’s the actions of a stalker. It is so, so, so utterly wrong. Sierra is pretending to be Veronica, and she’s leading Jamey to believe he’s interacting – talking, messaging – with Veronica. She even sends him a picture of Veronica (with Veronica's permission, which is not to say Veronica's innocent either FYI) so he thinks that the girl he's messaging is indeed Veronica! It’s manipulative to say the least. And it gets more intense as the whatsapping becomes a phone call, then a video, then an actual date with Veronica who is -unbeknownst to him - taking lines and cues from Sierra who is present on the date; who hides behind Jamey and Veronica at the movies, and creeps around their truck when they stop and talk in the parking lot. She hides where they can’t see her, she eavesdrops,  and she texts Veronica with what to say to Jamey. That’s the behaviour of a stalker, guys! It crosses a line!

At the end of the movie when Jamey finds out he’s been deceived, very little is said about it. He tells Sierra “it really wasn’t cool”, but she brushes it off and so does he, almost immediately. I find that unsettling, especially since Sierra ends up "getting the guy". Honestly, she doesn't deserve to be with Jamey after the way she's toyed with him.


Think about it this way: had Sierra been a guy and Jamey a girl, would these incidents have been more obviously shocking and wrong to you? Because I think that’s part of the problem. It’s one of reasons I’m so ashamed I didn’t see the issues when I first watched the movie.


ROMANTICISED SEXUAL ASSAULT:

The whole fake persona Sierra’s pulling over Jamey’s eyes comes to a horrifying climax when she accompanies him and Veronica – unbeknownst to him – on an actual physical date. When Jamey and Veronica are standing in front of his truck in the abandoned carpark and talking to each other, Jamey leans in to kiss Veronica. She, for her part, puts her hands over his eyes and beckons Sierra to come out from where she’s hiding between the vehicle. And she kisses Jamey. Sierra kisses Jamey, who thinks he’s kissing Veronica. 

What. The. Heck.

At this point I couldn’t give a flip about Sierra or her unrequited love, because Jamey is not consenting to kiss her – he thinks he’s kissing Veronica. His eyes are closed because her hands are over them, and Sierra kisses him full on the lips. He doesn't give her permission to do that! That's not okay! Why is consent such a tricky thing for some writers to understand?!
I'm hesitate to call the act sexual assault, though. A part of me thinks that of course it is sexual assault, but another part of me is thinking if I call an unwanted kiss sexual assault, I'm equating it with, say, groping someone's genitalia against their will. I mean, can I do that? Isn't one decidedly worse? I want to say yes.

But I digress. Whether Sierra kissing Jamey without his consent is sexual assault or not, it's still wrong and inappropriate and completely unacceptable. That's what I'm picking at.

I admit, I don't think Sierra intended to be so cruel and twisted. She's honestly falling in love with Jamey, and she cares about him. However. That doesn't excuse her actions. If I'm tricked into a kissing a random guy, that's an invasion of my privacy, an intrusion on my rights, and an assault on my body. It hurts me, not the kisser.  That's the problem. If Sierra had accidentally kissed Jamey, then you can forgive her because it was an accident and she didn't mean it. But here she is actively choosing to do this to him and she's not giving him a choice.



Sierra Burgess Is A Loser is a bad movie, if only because of its romanticisation of disturbing and inappropriate behaviour. Had the characters’ genders been switched, maybe we would be screaming its problems from the rooftops? In this day and age, I’m sadly not sure. But I do know it would’ve been more noticeable to me, and I’m ashamed.

The writers are leading us to feel sorry for Sierra, and they’re doing their best to dress the movie up as a cute, heartwarming tale that preaches body positivity. Look, that message is not bad, but they should’ve chosen a different story to tell it. The one they’ve gone with is messed up and twisted. 

This film is extremely harmful. Please do yourself a favour and don’t watch it.