Sierra Burgess is a Loser
Although it boasts a resoundingly likable and noteworthy leading performance from Shannon Purser, the Netflix teen comedy Sierra Burgess is a Loser rehashes Cyrano de Bergerac for a bunch of barely reheated, boring, and poorly implemented clichés. While Edmond Rostand’s classic play of romantic deception has been strip mined in the past for countless other similarly minded stories, this illogical and underwhelming updating for the social media and texting age flatlines almost immediately, boasting little wit and even fewer original ideas. It might as well have been made from a “do-it yourself” assembly kit.
Purser stars as Sierra Burgess, an intelligent, unconventionally attractive teenager with a mop of curly red hair and an average physique. She endures plenty of name calling, teasing, and bullying, particularly from head cheerleader Veronica (Kristine Froseth) and her band of fellow mean girls. She’s usually able to take it all in stride and strike back with a jab of her own, but her high school experience has made her grown weary and wary of other people. As a prank, Veronica gives Sierra’s number to a flirty boy that she wants nothing to do with: Jamey (Noah Centineo), the quarterback for a rival high school football team that she won’t date because (even though he’s very attractive) his best friends look like losers. Sierra starts taking Jamey’s texts and calls, even though she learns early on that he thinks she’s Veronica. After Veronica is dumped by her older (and surprisingly far less attractive) boyfriend (Will Peltz), Sierra makes an uneasy pact with her biggest enemy. Veronica will do her best at pretending to adopt Sierra’s personality, while the bookish teen will help teach the airheaded cheerleader about the more high minded literature that her ex-boyfriend is learning in college, hopefully getting him back in the process.
The overall plot of Sierra Burgess is a Loser provides a safe, but solid starting point for a teen rom-com romp, but screenwriter Lindsey Beer and director Ian Samuels can’t find any ways of injecting life into such material. Every plot point of Sierra Burgess is a Loser is predictable to the point of annoyance and frustration. Every character is an uninteresting, paper thin bundle of clichés and archetypes that have been recycled from any number of other, better films. We know that Sierra is shy, has few extracurricular activities to pad out her college applications, and she lives in the shadow of her self-help guru mother (Lea Thompson) and world famous writer father (Alan Ruck). Sierra also has a great singing voice that she never uses, something that might as well have “climax material” stamped all over it. We know that Veronica’s home life is a mess thanks to her domineering, broken hearted, Type-A mother (Chrissy Metz). The hero and the villain-who’ll-turn-out-to-be-not-so-bad are cobbled together from any number of other teen flicks, but Beer and Samuels flounder when trying to think of anything new to do with them. It’s the kind of film where every character is given one usable skill that will pay off at the film’s conclusion, and outside of that, no one gets anything else to work with.
Hobbled already by a complete lack of originality (and an icky, underlying homo and transphobic streak, which is weird for a movie that gives the main character a gay best friend), Sierra Burgess is a Loser commits the ultimate teen movie sins of not being funny or dramatic enough to capture the viewer’s attention. Every sad, limp, and obvious punchline hits with the force of a newborn throwing a feather. There’s only one genuine laugh in the entire film, and it involves Sierra and her best friend (RJ Cyler) trying to carry on a conversation while trying out for the school track team. Everything else comes drenched in flop sweat that threatens to drown the cast. Beer’s screenplay is beyond dire, and outside of mounting a few admittedly gorgeous shots, Samuels, making his debut feature, can’t make any of it snappy, moving, or witty.
It’s the kind of film where everyone’s talents are wasted. Cyler, Ruck, Thompson, and Metz are all capable performers who have been saddled with idiotically penned supporting roles that add nothing to the film’s already flavourless stew of decades old ideas. Centineo and Froseth fare slightly better, but despite having a lot of screen time they still have almost nothing usable, and the characters fail to come alive. The entire film rests on Purser’s shoulders, and someone needs to give her another starring role immediately. Almost turning an awful film into something watchable is no small feat, but Purser nearly pulls it off, imbuing the character with charm, good will, and kindness (until a highly illogical and atypically mean twist in the final act chucks all of the actor’s hard work into a paper shredder for the sake of cheap, all too easily resolved drama).
Purser deserves better than what she’s given here, and audiences everywhere deserve a lot better than Sierra Burgess is a Loser. Considering that just a few weeks ago Netflix released one of the best teen movies in recent memory (To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, also featuring Centineo as a male romantic lead), it’s crushingly disappointing to see something this disheartening and flat coming out around the same time. There’s no use comparing Sierra Burgess is a Loser to anything. It won’t stick around long in the memory of anyone who sees it, and it’s destined to fester in the quickly filling up young adult scrap heap.
Sierra Burgess is a Loser premieres on Netflix on Friday, September 7, 2018.
Check out the trailer for Sierra Burgess is a Loser: