There is no question that Netflix is striking gold with its high school romantic comedies after the success of ‘To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before.’ Now it's picked up with ‘Sierra Burgess is a Loser,’ with Noah Centineo of ‘To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before’ and Shannon Purser of ‘Stranger Things’ paired up for a loosely adapted Cyrano de Bergerac romantic film -- complete with gender reversal -- and charged with the present day issues of self-worth, and a clever use of technology in the form of catfishing.
In this variation, Cyrano de Bergerac comes in the form of Sierra Burgess (Shannon Purser), an overweight, straight A student, who the popular cheerleader in school, Veronica (Kristine Froseth), calls a “reject.” When the quarterback of a different school, Jamey (Noah Centineo), tries to ask Veronica out, she gives him Sierra’s number as a joke because she prefers to hang out with college boys and judges Jamey for the “loser” company that he keeps.
The romance comes in when Sierra receives Jamey’s texts and they begin to get to know each other without ever seeing each other’s faces. Sierra knows he thinks she’s someone else, and Jamey thinks he’s chatting with Veronica. Of course, they develop feelings for each other and, for Sierra who has always felt unpretty, the attention becomes too much that telling him the truth would be too much a sacrifice for her to bear.
This is the tricky issue surrounding ‘Sierra Burgess is a Loser.’ She’s told by her best friend, Dan (RJ Cyler) that she’s catfishing Jamey but, for obvious reasons, she doesn’t want to stop. She then brings it to the next level by offering to help Veronica seem smarter so she can get closer to the college guy that she likes, in exchange for helping Sierra keep up the ruse that Jamey is still talking to Veronica.
No matter how you cut it, what Sierra Burgess does is wrong. We understand why this is important to her. It is clear how she feels about herself and her looks and it’s done in such a way that we understand on a primal level. Director Ian Samuels is unafraid to capture Shannon Purser with all her curves in relation to Noah Centineo and Kristine Froseth’s beautiful magazine-ready physique.
A wonderful touch, but also making the issue even more complicated, is when Sierra and Veronica become friends, and Sierra discovers what the world behind the popular cheerleader in school is. In this, the wonderfully surprising Kristine Froseth charms and captivates as she presents Veronica as a nuanced and multi-layered character with profound depth and precision.
In fact, the friendship of Sierra and Veronica becomes the more beautiful love story here than that of the main plot, which makes Sierra Burgess' catfishing so difficult to accept. For romantic comedies with this sort of plot, where deception is a key element to the love story, it becomes a difficult juggling act to be true to the emotions of these characters and still deliver the expected happy ending.
There are many good things in ‘Sierra Burgess is a Loser.’ Shannon Purser is charming and endearing. She makes Sierra Burgess someone you root for. She’s not a victim and she’s not a loser. She’s just a high school kid who is suffering from the harsh cruelties of high school life and what an ideal person should look like or be. Noah Centineo again racks up points for being the ideal guy, which he has done excellently in ‘To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before.’ And Kristine Froseth surprises and grabs on to you unexpectedly.
And while the film tries its best to deal with the ramifications of Sierra Burgess’ actions, which we understand, as a viewer I’m left wondering if the film manages to do its due diligence in making its lead character pay for the catfishing. Ten years ago, it would be okay, wrapped up in its romantic comedy tone. But it’s 2018 and we are more careful now about our actions. We understand but I find it a little harder to forgive.
It’s wonderful how this film tackles social pressure and the emotional stress caused by presenting a world where only skinny or fit people are considered beautiful. Because Shannon Purser is a gorgeous young woman. It’s amazing casting in the sense that we are presented with a gorgeous young woman who we still believe will get bullied because of her weight. It’s wonderful how the film highlights the importance of friendship between girls and the nuances of their dynamics.
But in the handling of the catfishing plotline, I find myself leaning towards an unforgiving stance, which is uncharacteristic of me. I would’ve preferred a tougher redemption arc than what I got from the story. I want Sierra Burgess redeemed and not because she’s the lead, but because the act is so foul. Regardless of the reasons, the weight of the prize must be exact to the weight of actions it takes to achieve it.
Instead of falling madly in love with the film as I am wont to do in romantic comedies, I became introspective of my own values and morals. And I guess that’s a good thing. ‘Sierra Burgess is a Loser’ will open up discussions about right and wrong and redemption. And that’s not a bad thing to accomplish.