Barb is back ladies and gentleman! Okay not really but Shannon Purser is back on Netflix for a brand new film, Sierra Burgess is a Loser. 2018 has had no shortage of young-adult features with films like Love, Simon and To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before receiving critical acclaim from critics and fans while others such as The Darkest Minds did little to differentiate itself in the popular genre. This leads us to Netflix where the streaming giant is set to release its latest feature Sierra Burgess, a film that is definitely more conventional in its approach but still succeeds in getting the point of “be yourself” across to its audience. It has solid performances and great humor that make up for the familiar story and shows that Netflix may finally have a handle on the movie-making side of its business.
Sierra Burgess Is A Loser is a modern retelling of the play ‘Cerano de Bergerac’ and follows the story of Sierra (Shannon) who falls in love with a jock, Jamey (Noah Centineo), after he accidentally sends a text to the wrong number. Keen to keep talking to Jamey, Sierra then assumes the identity of Veronica, the cheerleader Jamie thinks he’s talking to. Sierra even makes a deal with Veronica to get her to help keep up the catfishing-esque façade.
Directed by Ian Samuels, in his feature-length directorial debut and scripted by Lindsey Beer, who also wrote the Tom Holland-led Chaos Walking, Sierra Burgess, above all else, shows that even with its problems, the film has a ton of potential. Samuels’ direction of the young talent is solid as we watch these teens navigate through arguably the hardest years of their lives.
As I said above, this is a film with a very conventional narrative. In some cases, various plot points have been seen in several other young adult films. The loser protagonist who struggles with finding herself, the cheerleader who is the resident mean girl with a softer side and the dreamy boy who may be a jock but is super sweet are all character archetypes that we have seen before. However, while familiar, the story still does deal with very realistic themes facing teenagers today. While looks might be considered “everything” to some, the reality is that it is what’s inside of you that matters. Hence why the resident hunk is really a caring dork who happens to play football as well.
But this is Sierra Burgess’ story and it really is a hard look into what standards Hollywood has crafted for its stars. Sierra even asks in the film “Do you have any idea what it’s like to be a teenage girl and to look like this?” She’s not obsessed with looks in the same way her classmates are, but she is still obsessed. This is where the film truly shines. Sierra is a character that looks and acts like she does not care about how people view her. In fact, it was very refreshing to see Veronica’s bullying have little-to-no impact on Sierra’s self-esteem. At the same time, Sierra does secretly wish she looked better; that she was thinner or even looked more like her beautiful parents. It is a struggle that most students face in their life and the tagline “just be you,” is shown to not work for everyone. The film expertly balances Sierra’s “beautiful monster” mindset and her longing for an easier life with respect to looks and it makes for some real genuine moments amongst the characters,
On the other end of the spectrum, resident mean girl Veronica is also given a compelling character arc. While the film begins with her acting like every other film bully, we slowly start to see her unravel as she reveals the root causes of why she acts the way she does. Veronica’s damage is explained by her overbearing mom who in turn has damage of her own. But through her budding friendship with Sierra, Veronica becomes a better, more caring person as she helps boost Sierra’s confidence. Their friendship, though not without hurdles, are a major highlight in this story.
Right in the middle is Noah Centineo who plays main love interest Jamey and he brings quite a bit of depth to the role. After being one of the standouts in To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, Centineo brings a lot of charisma and emotion to the role as the male lead. His arc is simpler compared to Sierra and Veronica but he is still exciting to watch and his interactions with Sierra make for some truly hilarious moments.
Unfortunately, with most of the attention on Sierra and Veronica, the rest of the cast is sidelined. Particularly, RJ Cyler plays Sierra’s best friend Dan and while Cyler churns out a funny performance, his character is merely there to act as a voice of reason to Sierra’s catfishing scheme and nothing more. This again ties into tired rom-com tropes of “the friend is always right” as we know everything Cyler says, Sierra should be listening but she gets too caught up in a game where everyone can already see the ending. Then there is Sierra’s parents, played by Lea Thompson and Alan Ruck. It is not a case of the performances not being what they could, but rather the script does not give them much to do. Aside from a single moment near the end, the parents of Sierra are merely there, providing a soundbite every now and again.
Sierra Burgess is a Loser is a film that, while treading on familiar waters, makes for a solid teen-dramedy film. Containing solid performances and humor, Sierra Burgess manages to balance an important message with a compelling story. It is a story that knows exactly who its audience is and gears its narrative exactly towards them; the group that leaves happy endings and progressive themes. Following films like Mudbound and To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, Sierra Burgess cements Netflix’s spot as a real player in the filmmaking game and while it may not be a classic hit, it is an enjoyable one that proves “looks aren’t everything.”