What are “the kids” into these day?
The question that leaves adults in writers rooms drawing blanks across this nation. The films created for teenagers follow the same formula. Girl meets boy. Girl falls head over heels in love. Boy doesn’t notice her until she does something worthy of his attention. Boy realises that it was her that he was in love with the whole time. And they go to the school dance together.
And that’s fine.
Sometimes writers don’t always get it right. When you try and create a “cool and ~edgy~” comedy for teens it’s easy to take a misstep. It’s easy to take jabs at already ostracized people. Comedy at its heart is disrespectful. It is supposed to be a challenge to expectations and conventions. Two of the newest to be released, “Insatiable” and “Sierra Burgess is a Loser” are perfect examples. Both these films had the opportunity to create something really great but, fell short.
“Insatiable” was produced and broadcasted by the streaming service Netflix. The twelve part series was created by Lauren Gussis as a teen drama, black comedy. It goes without a rating and it premiered on August 10 2018.
I first started hearing about it when it came out and I decided that I should watch it myself before I make a final judgement.
And oh boy!
The premise is this:
Patty (Debby Ryan, “Suite Life On Deck”) is overweight in high school and is bullied as a result. After some time in the hospital over the summer she is now thin, due to being put on a liquid diet in the hospital after being attacked by a homeless man. She seeks revenge on everyone who has bullied her throughout the years. One of these revenge plots is to join a beauty pageant in order to show off her new physique. She is being mentored by Bob Armstrong, (Dallas Roberts, “The Walking Dead”), the lawyer who represented her in her trial.
In their time working together, Patty subsequently falls in love with Bob.
Bob has a history with younger girls. But, in Patty’s eyes this makes it a full proof plan because “‘maybe I’ll actually have a chance.’”
If you read the news or pay attention to anything that is going on right now, you would know that many women, everywhere, in Hollywood especially, are coming out to tell their stories of sexual harassment and assault. This makes “Insatiable”, and this aspect of it in particular, really hard to swallow, if it wasn’t so disgusting before. To weave such an outright terrible situation as a dramatic and comedic turning point for the series is gross.
It’s just gross.
The film never gives Patty the opportunity to love herself even after she’s lost weight. Throughout the whole series she is reaching for something that she can never truly get, the undying love and respect from everyone who hurt her in the past. It amplifies the importance of Patty’s bullies and allows their words to hold true meaning through Patty’s actions.
What happens when you try to reimagine the classic play Cyrano de Bergerac in 2018?
“Sierra Burgess is a Loser” is just that. The film, also a Netflix original, was directed by Ian Samuels and written by Lindsey Beer.
The film starts of with the title character looking into the mirror and saying “You’re a magnificent beast” and smiling. Which is refreshing to see at first.
“Sierra Burgess” starts off like all the teen romance movies you have seen before. She meets a boy and falls head over heels in love with him. The only problem is he doesn’t know who she is. Or at least she’s not the girl he’s thinking of. Sierra, played by Shannon Purser, known for her role as the gone-too-soon Barb in “Stranger Things”, and ‘dream boy’ Jamey, (Noah Centineo, “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before”), pour their hearts out to each other over text. Centineo’s character thinks that Sierra is actually Veronica, after sending a text to Sierra’s number accidentally.
But, don’t worry, as Sierra explains to her best friend, “‘It’s not catfishing, they’re [her] words.’” To keep the plan from falling apart, Sierra ropes Veronica in by promising to tutor her.
Sierra’s English teacher introduces a poetry project to her class. A student says to Sierra, “Maybe you can use your gender transition story.”
I get it, not a big deal. Though it may be small, comments like this one can have a real life effect.
I’m not saying that a movie has to have anything supporting or talking about trans people if it’s not something the director wants. But, if you don’t want to talk about trans people, don’t. Period. It isn’t that those two girls were making fun of Sierra either. That’s commonplace in every high school. It’s that they could have said anything else.
Yes, it might have been an accurate depiction of what somebody would actually say in real life but, it also now gives an excuse for when somebody says it in real life. Even if that’s not the intent you cannot always control what people will take from a movie.
In order to keep up the ruse, Sierra sees Jamey out in public. Knowing that she will get recognized for her voice she pretends to be deaf. But, when she learns that Jamey’s younger brother is actually deaf this doesn’t really work out. And much like the joke about transgender people, it’s small and maybe you wouldn’t catch it or think about it if it wasn’t pointed out to you.
Those words or actions reinforce another dangerous behavior, it takes the person out of the equation. To reduce an entire life experience into a series of words or mannerisms in return overshadow that these are real life people we are talking about.
I have to give the film props for this one thing.
When Sierra receives that initial text from Jamey, she believes that he is the one. This is a true depiction of the mind of a teenager. We want to believe that we have found our one and only in high school. And some of us are lucky enough to have that happen us. But, for the rest of us we have to just hold on to the fact that we sit next to them in math class and cherish that moment until we find someone new to fall head over heels in love with.
While “Sierra Burgess is a Loser” and “Insatiable” had all the makings to be perfectly enjoyable teen comedies they fell short, (or off a cliff) in some places. They were cute and their intent is to be uplifting for all us “ugly girls” out there.
My problem with “Sierra Burgess is a Loser” and “Insatiable” goes beyond superficial “smaller” issues found throughout, more of what it, like many teen films, tells girls about how they should feel about themselves. In “Sierra Burgess” they try to empower her, in the end she gets with the boy of her dreams and everything is suddenly better than ever before. These movies tell girls that they are only able to find self love because a boy likes them or tells them that they are pretty.
In order to see if there was something that I was missing I spoke with Grayson Anderson, a senior here at Westfield High School, to get their thoughts on each work.
Grayson describes being “hooked” by the initial premise of “Insatiable”, but quickly that initial interest began to falter. They describe that show quickly took a turn and became “toxic.” While they enjoyed the queer representation through Sierra’s best friend that doesn’t entirely overshadow Sierra being told that she looks like a lesbian. They believe that “queer characters should be played by queer actors” whenever possible. Another problem they found lies in the constant “fat shaming” found throughout “Insatiable”.
“‘Netflix has been doing a lot of good [things] recently,” they say. But when it comes to each of these works, they aren’t really it. Grayson calls both “Sierra Burgess” and “Insatiable”, “‘fictitious, not grounded in reality.”’ These kinds of shows and movies create an “‘unrealistic expectation”’ for the people that watch them, giving them another story that they cannot relate to, the exact opposite of what they often want. When asked if they would recommend either of these, it was a hard “no” for Grayson, unless you have some time to kill on a long flight.