Sierra Burgess is a Loser: Feel good Rom-com or Catfishing glorified?

Following the success of To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before- starring newly established heartthrob Noah Centineo (aka Peter Kavinsky)- the imminent release of Netflix’s latest teen rom-com Sierra Burgess is a Loser was a highly anticipated one- particularly after it was revealed that Centineo would be returning to our screens, joined by Stranger Things’ star Shannon Purser.

From a quick glance at the trailer, the film seemed to fit the recipe for any good high-school rom-com; a noteworthy (diverse) cast, a feel-good storyline, and that warm-toned, grainy filter that just screams ‘Netflix binge’. What was even better, the film challenged the limited body representation that Hollywood often promotes, with lead actress Shannon Purser. All signs pointed to a newfound Netflix guilty pleasure, but as the finishing credits rolled in, I was left severely disappointed.

To provide some context, Netflix describes the film with the following by-line; ‘a wrong-number text sparks a virtual romance between a smart but unpopular teen and a sweet jock who thinks he’s talking to a gorgeous cheerleader’. It is then further defined in the details section as ‘quirky’ and ‘romantic’- fair enough, right? That is, until you watch the film and discover this ‘quirky’ and ‘romantic’ story is essentially a 1 hour and 45 minute glorification of Catfishing, disregard for consent, and blatant bullying. Sure, the movie isn’t a total flop, but it demonstrates some serious issues that need to be addressed, particularly considering its relevance in today’s digital age, even more so within the lives of the countless teens watching from home.

Throughout the film, Sierra Burgess talks to/ flirts with Jamey online (played by Centineo) after head mean girl Veronica gives him Sierra’s number as a cruel joke. However, the events that followed quickly position Sierra to the same (low) level. After eventually joining forces, the pair not only trick Jamey into thinking he’s talking to someone else, but they even go as far to cover his eyes whilst on a date with Veronica to allow Sierra to snag a kiss from her crush. Later in the film, Sierra spots Jamey kissing Veronica (the girl he believes he’s been establishing genuine feelings for) and retaliates by hacking her Instagram account and leaking a photo of Veronica and her ex, sharing details of their recent breakup. The picture quickly goes viral throughout the school, provokes an absolute train-wreck for everyone involved, yet somehow ends with Jamey forgiving the girls and taking Sierra to homecoming. Meanwhile, Veronica ignores Sierra’s total violation of privacy and a big happy ending ensues.

Now, like many high-school rom-com’s, the right up-beat song to transition into the finishing credits can usually convince you that, despite whatever happened throughout, you can walk away chuffed that everything (somehow) worked out in the end. However, in this case, the disturbing perspective provided on some seriously prevalent issues in today’s society throughout Sierra Burgess is a Loser had me feeling a level of discomfort that no Spotify Viral 100 hit could subdue.

Whilst these concerns aren’t rocket science and are (sadly) too relevant to be oblivious to, I know that my naïve 15-year old self (like many teenagers alike) would not watch this film and consider it from this same angle.

Catfishing, firstly, is illegal, so it is baffling to think that anyone would consider it appropriate to portray the idea that, despite emotionally and physically manipulating someone, you will get that happy ending you deserve and all will be forgiven when they realise you are ‘meant to be’. Secondly, the film trivializes the notion of bullying, particularly within the behaviour demonstrated by Sierra towards Veronica through the Instagram-hacking saga. This is enhanced through the lack of remorse shown by those involved (*cough cough*, Sierra).

Cyberbullying.org defines Catfishing as ‘practice of setting up a fictitious online profile, most often for the purpose of luring another into a fraudulent romantic relationship. However, if you’ve ever seen an episode of MTV’s ‘Catfish’, you’re probably already familiar with the term. Catfish is an MTV television series that stemmed from the 2010 documentary film ‘Catfish’, produced by filmmakers Yaniv “Nev” Schulman and his 2 friends, which followed the real-time events of Nev’s own personal Catfishing experience. The TV series uncovers a myriad of people in the same situations, and follows their story as they discover the truth behind these online relationships. Unlike Sierra Burgess is a Loser, however, these stories rarely end with a homecoming invite or a happy ending. Often resolving in heartbreak, the 7 season series has shed light on a truly prevailing, dark side to the digital world we live in today.

According to Cyberbullying.org, in 2006, 13-year-old Megan Meier began an online relationship with a boy she knew as Josh Evans. The pair corresponded exclusively online due to Josh not having a phone and being home-schooled. In October that year, Josh posted a message on Megan’s MySpace profile “I don’t know if I want to be friends with you any longer because I hear you’re not nice to your friends.” This was followed by a tirade of nasty comments, which eventually caused Megan to take her own life.

It was later discovered that ‘Josh’ never existed, and turned out to be the families neighbour and mother of one of Megan’s friends, who created the fake profile to spy on what Megan was saying about her own daughter. The neighbour, Lori Drew, was eventually acquitted in federal court for her role in Megan’s death.

Despite Sierra Burgess is a Loser’s ‘quirky’ and ‘romantic’ portrayal of a catfish experience, the reality of such circumstances beyond our Netflix accounts or television screens are grim, and viewers- both young and old- deserve a far more honest representation of this. In a world that is so heavily dominated by social media and online presence, it is concerning to think these are the kind of perspectives being propelled across such renowned platforms as Netflix.

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