Sierra Burgess Is A Loser is a delve into familiar territory for Netflix- Young Adult romance. All the while I had my fingers crossed that the characterisation and the story arc would be somewhat different but the movie fails to live up to the expectations, primarily because Netflix’s last fling with YA turned out pretty well, with the instant success of To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. SBL is only too familiar – a somewhat fat nerd who wants to catch the eye of a pretty boy, with the school’s prettiest/meanest girl in her way. The oft-used trope fails to liven up the screen as the movie slowly fades into predictability.
The lead, shuffled from Netflix’s family, is Shannon Purser, whose last stint was a short-lived character called Barb in Stranger Things. Her nerdy, Stanford-aspirant, non-athletic personality as Sierra is lively on-screen but there is only so much it can do to hold the story together. At least it has a refreshing perspective – a ‘big’ girl who seems to like herself. Till we throw in the love angle. The storyline eventually capitulates to the age-old narrative of one-sided affection and teen rivalry. Except there is cat-fishing involved. Which serves to bring Sierra and her arch-nemesis Veronica (Kristine Froseth) under the same roof. It could have been all candy-coloured drama henceforth, but most things the movie aspired to talk about, got too muddy.
The rom-com tries too hard to be progressive in the presentation of body-image issues among other themes but relies too much on regressive tropes. The ‘all blonde popular pretty girls have to be dumb’ trope definitely needs subversion. Veronica’s life is pretty much unimportant to the plot and the storyline does little to explain her bullying personality. It goes to the credit of the show that they managed to evoke from the audience, sympathy for her character, primarily because she ends up sympathising with Sierra and partially because of her bronzed mother. Their journey from being enemies to friends, from transcending individual societal expectations, could have been the pivot but sadly the plot ends up being just about a ‘boy’.
Netflix’s (and our) latest chocolate boy obsession with Noah Centineo ensures that he is yet again the center of a romance, riding high on the success of his last Netflix original To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. Jamie is adorable on screen with his too-good-to-be-true persona and is a welcome subversion to the asshole-jock trope we’ve come to idolize. Two dorkish goofballs have been predictably added to provide substance to his boy-next-door appeal, as Veronica sermonizes that only ‘losers hang out with losers’. His performance is a rerun of his TATBILB character, albeit in a good way. Both Peter and Jamey have a strong character arc and show a vulnerability not common to rom-com male leads.
While Sierra’s catfishing elicits sympathy because Jamie would be ‘out of her league’ on a regular day, the reactions of Jamie and Veronica make the entire episode look unreasonable and a tad forced. This is where the problem lies. Simply making a character look conventionally undesirable does not excuse their actions. The entire affair swerves into a lot of questions about consent, trying to pass off as naive love( Jamie and Sierra’s first kiss!). Sierra also ends up (almost) sabotaging her friendship with Veronica and goes so far as to slut-shame her in front of the entire school. She also forgets her only friend Dan in her quest for Jamie’s love; his presence in the movie is just a plot device and nothing more. While Jamie-Sierra romance is a pretty modern take on relationships in the perilous age on online dating, the repercussions are only too real and handled way too loosely.
There are some memorable takeaways from the show – The initial unabashed self-confidence of Sierra’s character and her nonchalance towards the popular crowd; how the perfect person may not always be perfect in the ways we expect; being a dork doesn’t make you a loser (something a lot of us would’ve told our teenage selves, with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight). But it loses out much worth in its production. We rarely watch teen rom-coms for depth, but it does add a layer of sensibility. Sadly, Sierra Burgess is a Loser comes out at a time when the genre is being reinvigorated, and by looking back more than looking forward, it stumbles more than it glides.