The Netflix original movie Sierra Burgess is a Loser, directed by Ian Samuels, has been making waves since its release in September this year.
The film stars Shannon Purser (from Stranger Things fame) and Noah Centineo (the new romance king after starring in teen favourite To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before).
The story is based loosely on the play ‘Cyrano de Bergerac’, written in the 1800s, however, in this modern retelling, we see Sierra (Purser) catfish one of the most popular boys in school, Jamey (Centineo), after token mean-girl Veronica (Kristine Froseth) gives him the school’s biggest loser’s number instead of her own.
The concept of catfishing, or pretending to be someone you’re not online, is a relatively new occurrence that classic romantic comedies of the past don’t feature – can you imagine When Harry met Sally (1989) in the digital age?
Sierra Burgess is a Loser tells the story of what numerous modern relationships look like. Watch a couple of episodes of the hit MTV series Catfish for a good example of this new age phenomenon. More and more people are meeting through their social media profiles, which in most cases show the ideal version of their life – a collection of posts cherry-picked to encapsulate their best selves. Sierra Burgess is a Loser is Netflix’s response to this new age love, which is as awkward and as painful to watch as many traditional romantic comedies and coming-of-age stories that are set in high school. This film outlines how dating online versus dating in real life is becoming a more common occurrence and maybe removes some of the stigma that still surrounds online dating and relationships today.
Shannon Purser is not the typical leading lady of a romantic comedy, and although it’s refreshing to see a female protagonist that doesn’t look like an Instagram model, it’s also concerning how films such as this have hopped along the ‘body positivity bandwagon, as more of a gimmick than anything else. One would argue that if the media’s representation of women really was shifting to be more inclusive, that the inclusion of an actress like Shannon Purser would not be part of the film’s synopsis at all and not a selling point, but a mere expression of representation of varying women and body types.
The film has received mixed reviews, some applauding it for its representation whilst others referring to it as a boring attempt of a coming-of-age story. One thought I can add is that the typical coming of age story has a strong hero and a distinguishable villain, however, this film shows both Sierra and Veronica in both good and bad light. Showing that Sierra is not all innocent and that Veronica herself has kind elements to her character, which we as viewers find have been buried through her own turbulent upbringing. The film shows how we all have our demons and vices to get over, owing some of its plot to the likes of the anti-hero protagonist, especially when we as viewers see Sierra behaving badly.
As for entertainment value, the film is clever to a degree and engaging. The way the main characters are designed is barely likeable though, and I felt as if Centineo’s character of Jamey was not shown as much depth as the audience needed to conjure up sympathy for him, and how the two girl’s actions created turbulence in his life. Shannon Purser gives a solid performance as an angst-filled teen that doesn’t fit in with society’s very tight set of ideals, and as a viewer who has been a teenage girl not so long ago, my heart broke with her performance in some of the grittier scenes of the film. The title doesn’t give this film enough credit; Sierra Burgess is a loser to her peers but at the same time is all of us, struggling through high school and later life with our own insecurities.
Sierra Burgess is a Loser is a modern coming-of-age film that doesn’t stray from other similar films’ plots. It does, however, broach some current subjects and topics with just enough originality to keep you watching.
Sierra’s parents are played by actors who famously starred in 80s films also about teenage misfits; Lea Thompson in Back To The Future and Alan Ruck in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.