Being a teenager is hard. But making a movie about being a teenager is even harder.
Sierra Burgess is a Loser is Netflix’s latest attempt at creating creating a coming-of-age romantic comedy, a genre they are desperately trying to break into. Sierra Burgess falls solidly middle ground compared to their other recent efforts. It’s certainly not nearly as bad as Netflix’s summer hit The Kissing Booth — an absolutely awful 110 minutes of my life that I will never get back. But between the movie’s predictability and convoluted plot, it will probably be doomed to remain in the shadow of the more-successful contemporaries.
Sierra Burgess (Shannon Purser) is a confident, unpopular school girl whose days are filled with band practice, studying, community service and being bullied by a cheerleader named Veronica (Kristine Froseth). When the cute but shy Jamey (Noah Centineo) asks Veronica out, she gives him Sierra’s number as a joke, sparking a text-romance between Sierra and Jamey, who believes he is talking to Veronica.
The most glaring issue with the movie is that the romance is stale. The whole premise of the movie depends on the audience buying into Sierra and Jamey falling for each other through their text messages and phone conversations, but the chemistry just isn’t there. The two mainly flirt by sending back and forth pictures of generic animals that all look like they would be found through a simple Google search. At least have them send each other memes or something. Even when they eventually talk on the phone, there aren’t exactly sparks flying. And it’s just uncomfortable to watch transpire, especially knowing that Jamey believes he is actually talking to Veronica.
Perhaps the worst part of the cat-fishing is that it puts the morality of the movie such a gray area. The movie clearly wants to portray that looks aren’t everything and that love is based on personality. But Sierra’s train of lies takes away from this positive message.
I guess the moral of the whole thing is that lying is okay as long as you’re doing it for the right reason? The weird glossing over of these issues chip away at the movie’s foundation and make it harder to enjoy.
The other problem that plagues Sierra Burgess is a Loser is that much of it is very out of touch with what high school is actually like. It’s almost as if the screenwriters never actually attended high school themselves but just watched a bunch of other movies and tv shows about high school instead. First of all, as the title not-so-subtly tells us, Sierra Burgess is not popular. She likes literature. She’s in band. And sure, Shannon Purser doesn’t look exactly like the traditional standard of beauty women are subjected to. But Sierra’s character is charming and witty, and Purser is perfectly fine-looking. The way the movie tries to pass her off as some grotesque, unpopular monster feels over-the-top almost to the point of being offensive.
A bunch of other boring, exaggerated tropes play themselves out the same way they’ve been done a million times before. There’s the sassy best friend with no arc except to help the main character, the good girl who goes to her first party, the posse of homogenous bullying cheerleaders and much more. It’s sad Sierra Burgess felt the need to cling to cliches for so much of the movie; in its quirkier moments, the actors shine.
Noah Centineo, who E! News already dubbed “The Internet’s Boyfriend” after his performance in To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, is swoon-worthy once again, striking a perfect balance of awkward and sweet. One of the best scenes in the movie is when Jamey agonizes over taking the perfect mirror selfie to send to “Veronica” and then immediately regrets sending it. It’s cute, funny, and captures the universal struggle of trying to impress someone you like.
Purser’s performance is also a highlight. After enjoying her work playing side characters in both Stranger Things and Riverdale, I was excited to see her take take the lead in a project, and she does not disappoint. Purser makes Sierra as multi-dimensional as possible, delivering pep-talks into the mirror with gusto, but also showing her vulnerabilities as she struggles with having to compare herself to Veronica.
Sierra Burgess is a Loser is problematic and formulaic in its worst moments. And while it features some sweet and well-acted moments, it’s probably not worth sitting through to get to them.
Annika Layatis is a freshman in the College of Arts & Sciences. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.