Romantic comedies follow a basic formula—boy meets girl, boy and girl undergo challenges before they become a couple, and then boy and girl kiss to live happily ever after. There will be some variation of the formula, but it will always follow these simple principles. Some variations may sound good in theory but can be poorly executed. The recent Netflix teen romantic comedy Sierra Burgess Is a Loser is a prime example of a badly done movie with good intentions.
Shannon Purser of Stranger Things stars as high school teen Sierra Burgess, who finds herself in a case of mistaken identity when mean girl Veronica (Kristine Froseth) passes along Sierra’s phone number to Jamey (To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before’s Noah Centineo), a quarterback from a rival high school who’s crushing hard on Veronica, and begins texting Sierra thinking he’s talking to Veronica. Eager to keep up the interactions and the ruse with Jamey, Sierra makes a deal with Veronica to help the cheerleader appear smart to her college boyfriend by tutoring her in return for lending Veronica’s face or physical presence when the situation requires it.
Sierra Burgess is supposed to be a modern day retelling of Cyrano de Bergerac, if Cyrano communicated via text messages and Facetime. Once the actual deception between Sierra and Jamey begins, it’s impossible to find anything romantic about the whole exchange. It’s an even harder sell to justify Sierra’s reasons for continuing to deceive the sweet, smart, and sensitive jock who is opening up his heart to her. The ways in which the film manages to extend the charade gets even more farfetched and appalling as the movie progresses.
There’s a scene in the movie where Jamey and Veronica are on a date. When Jamey leans in for a kiss, Veronica vehemently tells Jamey to keep his eyes closed long enough to allow the cheerleader to switch places with a hidden Sierra to let her be the one who kisses him. As everything unfolded, I awaited for this to unravel in a really bad way between the girls and Jamey. Instead, Jamey remains blissfully unaware of who he really kissed and the girls successfully switch places again before he notices something is amiss.
This along with some other problematic parts with the movie turned, what could have been a pretty decent watch, into an insensitive and mediocre film. A review from The Huffington Post points out everything that’s wrong with the film and its failed attempt to make catfishing romantic. Netflix has been on a roll lately at churning out movies that feature lead actresses playing unconventional romantic heroines, from an Asian American to a curvier young woman who isn’t your prototypical thin and beautiful but nerdy girl-next-door type. But the difference between To All the Boys and Sierra Burgess is one has a carefully crafted story that seems more plausible with characters that are distinguishable from one another, while the other is trying too hard to sell a plot device that doesn’t work for the full hour of its runtime and contains characters that are largely bland.
While Sierra Burgess misses the mark in becoming a notable romantic teen comedy, it does have one bright spot—the genuine friendship that develops between Sierra and Veronica. What starts out as a reluctant partnership, where both are seeking something from the other, becomes the best part of the whole film. I didn’t expect their relationship to develop beyond maybe a mutual respect for each other and possibly the mean girl becoming nicer to the unpopular girl by the end of it. What emerged, instead, are two girls who saw past their differences to truly care for one another. The love story between Sierra and Jamey should have been the focal point, but I started seeing it as its weakest link. I would have preferred a story built around the friendship and changing dynamic between Sierra and Veronica.
Sierra Burgess had the potential to be a standout teen rom-com with positive lessons about being yourself and daring to believe that a guy like Jamey could fall for a girl like Sierra for her personality and brains. But the whole movie is weighed down by contradictory messages that seem to award the main heroine with the guy of her dreams through deception and lies. Sierra Burgess Is a Loser is one massive disappointment.
Reviewer Rating: 7.0/10