Sierra Burgess Is Problematic

Model Nyle DiMarco tweets, “It is extremely easy to make jokes about marginalized/disfranchised groups… but that makes you a lazy writer.”

Netflix’s Sierra Burgess Is a Loser has received much criticism from Twitter since its release on September 7th. Director Ian Samuels and screenwriter Lindsey Beer have failed to create a film that meets the standards of recent romantic comedies (like To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and Set It Up) that have charmed our pants off. While the film itself has an intriguing plot, the romance gets lost in the background. (Spoiler Alert: This review contains information about the plot, including some plot twists.)

The film is loosely based off of Edmond Rostand’s 1897 play titled Cyrano de Bergerac; socially awkward but lovable Sierra Burgess (Shannon Purser) tries to win over an adorable athlete using deceit and manipulation. Not fitting traditional beauty standards, Sierra doesn’t allow her physical appearance to define her worth. She is bright and confident, aspiring to attend Stanford University. We are then introduced to popular mean girl Veronica (Kristine Froseth), who is determined to make Sierra’s life a living hell for no apparent reason. In an attempt to humiliate her, Veronica gives Sierra’s number to football player Jamey (Noah Centineo). Sierra and Jamey begin texting and flirting until she realizes he thinks she’s someone else. Sierra approaches Veronica and offers to tutor her in exchange for helping her gaslight Jamey. The two girls quickly become friends, which is far more appealing than watching Sierra catfish Jamey. Anyway, Sierra and Jamey continue to flirt, constantly calling each other on the phone.

Sierra and her best friend, Dan (RJ Cyler) run into Jamey at the park, where Sierra pretends to be deaf because she’s afraid to tell Jamey the truth. This is where the movie begins to lose its audience; Sierra has gone from a fun dorky teenager to just a terrible person. During a movie date, Sierra covers Jamey’s eyes and kisses him. This whole time Jamey believes he is dating Veronica. The whole lie makes it hard for the audience to root for “the main couple.” We shouldn’t be romanticizing these toxic behaviors and model Nyle DiMarco seems to agree. He wrote a thread on Twitter explaining how representation needs to be done correctly and how making marginalized/disenfranchised groups the butt of a joke is only detrimental to them.

If you thought Sierra couldn’t get any worse, you’re wrong. Jamey kisses Veronica, the real Veronica, and Sierra happens to see. In a violent fury, Sierra releases an incriminating photo of Veronica and her ex-boyfriend with the words “dumped over DM” across it. She’s mad about something she asked Veronica to do, which makes absolutely no sense. At this point in the movie everyone is upset with Sierra but she writes a song and all is well; Jamey, Veronica, and Dan graciously forgive her for the way she treated them because of this song.

Even with the poor execution, the cast tried their best to carry the plot well. Shannon Purser, an incredible actress whose fanbase comes from Stranger Things, brought the same quirkiness from her previous role as Barb Holland. Her red hair and freckles are reminiscent of Molly Ringwald in Sixteen Candles and Pretty in Pink. Playing opposite of her is Noah Centineo, the heartthrob of 2018 that everyone is raving about. He is playing yet another sweet boy-next-door high school teen. Kristine Froseth, a Norwegian model, stunned everyone with her performance of Veronica. She truly captured the essence of the high school mean girl turned nice by the end of the film. Supporting characters like Sierra’s best friend (RJ Cyler) and her teacher (Loretta Devine) add a nice touch and make the movie feel complete.

The film should have focused more on female friendships and the message that you don’t need to fit anybody’s standards of beauty to be worthy of love. There was so much potential but the creators instead decided that romance needed to be at the center of the story. Forcing a romance does not make a good film.