On September 7th 2018, Netflix released yet another YA movie about a teen girl obsessing over a guy. This time around, there was promise of body-positivity, female friendship and a decent story for the popular genre upon the first trailer release. However, Sierra Burgess is a Loser made few productive improvements and resulted in an end product whose story became clichéd, tiresome and uncomfortable.
The movie is centered around mean-girl Veronica (Kristine Froseth) who gives her admirer Jamey (Noah Centineo) the cell number of Sierra Burgess, a confident and smart high school student who’s been deemed a loser. Unbeknownst to Sierra (Shannon Purser), Jamey believes he is speaking with and getting to know Veronica as he and Sierra exchange text messages and find that they have many things in common. As the movie progresses, it becomes a catfishing story when Sierra realizes the truth yet ignores it entirely because of her obsession with Jamey. She even brings Veronica in on her plan in exchange for helping her win back her college boyfriend.
The movie starts out decently when the audience is presented with Sierra, a young woman who is comfortable in her own skin, stands up to her bullies and seems to truly be happy with her life. Unfortunately, these positive messages of self-worth are quickly eliminated, and the film plummets when it converts the titular character into a boy-crazed, terrible decision maker. But when the film doesn’t get in its own way, there are positives to take away from the experience of watching SBIAL, though they are few and far between.
Take the developing friendship between Sierra and Veronica, for example. Though their union came from questionable motives and disturbing promises, their friendship spawned from a place of understanding. Veronica, the stereotypical mean girl has family issues, including a mother who is raising her children to care about superficial things so that they can “keep a man” when they’re older. Of course, this all comes from the hurt she feels from her husband leaving her. However, when she takes it out on her children, it is Veronica who’s affected the most. When Sierra witnesses the struggles of Veronica’s family life, there is a sudden switch, and the two become more friendly with one another. Eventually, their friendship blossoms into a heartwarming one that is real for both Sierra and Veronica.
Despite this encouraging aspect to its outlandish plot, the film only gets worse. It surrenders to the cheap storytelling that plagues the genre so often. For example, about midway through the film, Sierra forces Veronica to begin dating Jamey face-to-face. This leads to some very uncomfortable scenes, one of which includes a non-consensual kiss between Jamey and Sierra. How the writers were able to get away with including this into the script unscathed is a mystery in itself. But its inclusion is clumsy, awkward, and unbearable to put it nicely.
If that wasn’t bad enough, the writers decided to take the remaining likeable quality about Sierra Burgess and tarnish it by making her take on a new-found mean-girl persona. This is the result of the developing love triangle and after Sierra witnesses Jamey & Veronica kissing. To make matters even worse (yes… it’s possible!), Sierra is not only immediately forgiven by her peers, but she is rewarded with her targeted love interest in the end. What a pursuit of happiness!
So while Sierra Burgess is a Loser presented some important and valuable themes throughout the film, the negligence of them, its turn to banal tropes and the character assassinations are what truly hurt the film. But if there’s one take-home message to understand here, it’s that Netflix has got some work to do when it comes to accurately and appropriately representing YA experiences in rom-coms. Because Sierra Burgess is not only a loser, it’s a dud.