Netflix’s latest rom-com, Sierra Burgess is a Loser, is a little bit of a letdown following the sincere and sweet To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. But the film isn’t without its merits as it attempts to tackle some of the issues plaguing teenage girls. Based on the story of Cyrano de Bergerac, Sierra Burgess is a Loser brings the story into the 21st century, but it ultimately fails to rise above being anything but passable.
Sierra Burgess (Shannon Purser) is a seemingly confident teenage girl. She’s really smart, phenomenal at poetry, can speak Mandarin, has absolutely no qualms joining the all boys track team, has a nice singing voice, and doesn’t cower in the face of mean girl Veronica (Kristine Froseth), who’s arguably the most popular girl in school. But Sierra struggles with the pressure of living up to her famous father’s name, her mother’s looks, and getting into college after being deemed “nothing special” by her advisor.
Meanwhile, Jamey (Noah Centineo) works up the courage to finally speak to Veronica. To his surprise, she’s quick to give him her number. But that’s because it isn’t her number, it’s Sierra’s. Sierra is surprised when she realizes the person texting her is Jamey, someone she believes to be out of her league. She’s even more appalled when she realizes he thinks she’s Veronica. Cat-fishing ensues. Sierra and Jamey start chatting over the phone and via text, but things get complicated because who wants to talk on the phone forever without seeing someone face-to-face? So Sierra makes a deal with Veronica: if Veronica helps her with the Jamey situation, Sierra will help her learn philosophy and poetry to impress a college boy.
To be honest, Sierra Burgess is a Loser lacks in overall charisma and touching moments. Its heart is in the right place and it really focuses on the insecurities women can face with regards to body image and the need to be seen as perfect, but its delivery leaves much to be desired. There’s an instance in the final act of the film where Sierra, fed up with everything that’s been happening in her life, shouts at her parents for not understanding what her life is like and the stress she’s under having to live with accomplished parents. The scene rings hollow for many reasons. One of which being that the film isn’t interested in the mother/daughter relationship at all. Sierra is convinced she doesn’t have her mom’s beauty but stops short of mentioning any other characteristics. The pair never have a heart-to-heart about it either, something that would’ve been more meaningful than a conversation with her father. The lack of scenes between Sierra and her mom is a waste of Lea Thompson’s talent and screen presence.
The movie does at least have the courage to portray Sierra as imperfect and downright mean with regards to some of her actions. She’s an active participant in some pretty awful choices (beyond the cat-fishing, of course). Sierra is so worried about being found out and quick to jump to conclusions in one instance that she explains her reasoning to her best friend, Dan (RJ Cyler), so she will look sympathetic in a situation that betrays the trust of Veronica. It’s something that’s hard to overlook and which immediately changes your mind about Sierra and how much of a nice person the film initially makes her out to be. We ultimately don’t get to latch onto her body image insecurities because she doesn’t seem bothered by them until Jamey comes into the picture. And we’re not privy to any of the other pressure she’s feeling outside of that until she meets with her school advisor and that’s when the worry truly sets in.
On the home front, the way Sierra and her father speak to each other is more a source of frustration than an example of their bond. It’s not used well enough to showcase the supposed depth of their relationship. We’re also supposed to fall in love with Jamey and Sierra as they become closer, but watching two people text each other gifs and superficial texts won’t exactly stop your hearts and make you fall in love with them as a couple. For all his charm, Noah Centineo is sadly given little to do and RJ Cyler is relegated to be the best friend/comedic relief who isn’t paid much attention to by Sierra and is more of an afterthought.
The film does try to bypasses the one-dimensional “mean girl” trope by allowing the audience to see Veronica in a new light through the lens of her home life. While Sierra feels like she needs to be perfect, Veronica is mean because being perfect in her mother’s (Chrissy Metz) eyes–a stage mom who is going through her own issues–isn’t just pressure, but something she’s overly criticized for daily. Despite this peek into her life, this particular subplot’s resolution needed more time to develop.
The fact of the matter is that the film gives Sierra and Veronica issues to work through, but it’s slow going and watching them bond over philosophy becomes more than exhausting and brings the story to a bit of a halt. This makes the hour and 45-minute runtime taxing on the story and ultimately not very entertaining to watch. While Sierra Burgess is a Loser could’ve done more with regards to the way it handles the issues it presents, it is ultimately a story of self-acceptance, albeit not a thoroughly fleshed out or enjoyable one. The film is mediocre at best and doesn’t exactly stand out amid Netflix’s other, more charming and entertaining rom-coms.