Saturday, September 8, 2018

Sierra Burgess Is a Loser

...but her movie wins big time.

A Netflix high school romantic dramedy, this flick sees Shannon Purser as Sierra, an unpopular girl who unexpectedly receives some very interested texts from a hot guy she's never met before. Turns out a mean, super attractive cheerleader Veronica (Kristine Froseth) gave him Sierra's number as a way to both brush him off, and mess with the girl who irks her. But Sierra, pretending to be Veronica though texting, begins to really like this Jamey (Noah Centineo), and when Veronica's college boyfriend dumps her for not being smart enough, Sierra sees an opportunity for mutual benefit.

Our Beloved Barb Holland!

Next thing you know, Veronica is the fake face of Sierra's budding relationship with Jamey (the kids call it "catfishing"), while Sierra tutors her into sounding like a deeper person. You can probably see where it's all going and imagine the unlikely situations that must be navigated. But this movie has a little bit more going for it than a classic Disney Channel-style rom-com plot made with a Netflix budget, and that is a theme that had genuine thought put into it, and defying convention when it comes to easily stereotyped characters.

Sometimes I watch movies that are similar to this and think "If only they'd done this, it would be a genuinely good message." Someone must've been on my wavelength because this movie does exactly what I wanted. At first Veronica is like we've seen a million gorgeous cheerleaders portrayed. Ostensibly, her bullying comes out of nowhere and she's a drama-crating device. But as Sierra gets to know her we understand why she might be inclined to mean to someone she deems lesser and ugly (it's still detestable, but there's tangible motivation), and she becomes as important part of the story -- a true character we want to see get better along with Sierra.

A heavy-handed trope turned on its head.

Note that I said "along with" Sierra. We know she'll face her trials here because she's not conventional and gorgeous, but she starts out with apparent good self-esteem over her appearance. Good thing. But the movie digs in and finds her weaknesses, and as she faces them she comes away a better person. But, she gets worse before she gets better, even going so far as to engage in terrible bullying herself. Elsewhere it might be called anti-bullying, but it's the same, and this movie acknowledges that. I love this. It says that bullying bullies is never the answer, and no matter how impenetrable someone's defenses appear, you never know the damage you may do.

It says that we shouldn't judge by appearances, but it applies that message to all -- not just the outcasts, but to those who have a flawless public face and might be struggling underneath, too. Just because you're pretty doesn't mean you can't hurt. Just because you put on a confident face doesn't mean you don't feel vulnerable. It's all the same, and most teen rom-coms don't seem to notice that. In this day and age, we know that the outcast may have a winning personality and a heart of gold, but we can't seem to accept both them, and the ones who puts effort into appearance at the same time. But we either judge by surface appearances, or we don't.

A person's value isn't based on their outward appearance, one way or the other.

It's those things that for me, raised this flick above the bar, but otherwise it has its balance of pros and cons. For one, the cast is super charming, but not exceptional. Shannon Purser is -- and don't murder me now -- a fine actress and manages to lead this movie well, but I find her delivery oddly wooden at times. Other times, she's genuinely impressive. I also find it amusing that she, the girl who's been America's sweetheart since her debut in Stranger Things could possibly be perceived as the full-on loner outcast this movie wants her to be -- no matter how unconventionally-sized she is. She's so lovable. Who couldn't adore that genuine and lovely smile?

I dub this movie "The Movie of Charming Actors With Fantastic Smiles" actually, because Kristine Froseth's smile is gorgeous too. Though the whole girl is drop-dead honestly. I loved her character, because of the depth she was allowed to get to, and how most of the movie was secretly about her unexpected friendship with Sierra. She sold it all. And Noah Centineo has one of the most infectious smiles I've ever seen. Ever. If you've seen To All the Boys I've Loved Before you know what I mean. (Another Netflix rom-com I'd recommend!) His character takes a bit of a backseat in comparison with Boys, (it has to, as the deception can only go so far before it has to fall apart) but he's a worthy and charming inclusion.

Sierra's best friend Dan (RJ Cyler, aka Earl of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl) is decidedly most underused.

Sierra's parents are Lea Thompson and Alan Ruck, and I especially liked seeing Alan Ruck because of his popular character Cameron Frye who also learns self-confidence. His character here is an off-the-wall famous author who quotes other authors all the time and I just really enjoyed him. There's really a lot of uniqueness to delve into and appreciate, but a word of warning -- I wouldn't call it a comedy. It's marketed as such because of the situational plot but it's really more of a lighthearted drama. Most of the things I laughed or smiled at was character-interaction based, not actual jokes. Just to gauge expectations.

The ending is what drops the ball the most but I say they still carried it across the line. I love that the heroine makes a genuine bad mistake that's fully on her, but there's still that pitfall of misunderstanding thrown in there. And I wish they'd taken longer to wrap things up, as amends for bad things done comes too easily, even for a light little flick. Emphasis on the hurt she caused was left wanting. The situational elements go over-the-top, but that's to be expected, and some of the scenarios work impressively well, like the Skype-call date scene. And it's a little detail but I love whenever a movie slips in some sign language usage and a deaf character and this one made great use of it.

Noah and Shannon had good chemistry on the phone but I wish they'd had more real screen time together.

If anything, this flick stretches itself too far, as I would've loved to see each plot line developed further, but there's no time. One more odd thing: in spite of all the texting included, it's never superimposed on the screen; a useful technique, not utilized. This isn't a grand cinema-type movie, but really, rom-com-drams do not need to be. Netflix is the perfect outlet for flicks of this type -- they can be unique and dig in to say something meaningful without having to be Extra artistic, while easily reaching a wide audience eager to be entertained.

If that appeals to you, stick this one on your queue. Or, better yet, sit down and play it without putting it off. Sierra Burgess might be a "loser" but we all know she's really not. And you won't be either.


  1. I'll have to check it out. However, the title is absolutely terrible. I think it would be more interesting as Sierra Burgess is..., judging from what I had seen in the previews.

    1. "Sierra Burgess Is a Sunflower" would be my top choice. But this title does make sense in the narrative, and of course attracts attention, so I get why they did it. Hope you enjoy, Ivy!!