Hayley’s Thoughts on: Sierra Burgess is a Loser
A non-industry perspective on everything about the industry
It isn’t Tuesday and I didn’t spend $5.50 at the Evanston Cinemark on discount day to watch this movie, but I had to comment on it because Sierra Burgess is a Loser is a loser of a film.
Plain and simple. It’s a terrible movie with a terrible message and underdeveloped, underwhelming characters, brought to life by actors who are too good for their parts.
Let’s start with the really bad: This is a film that endorses catfishing, disregards consent, permits backstabbing without consequence, and humorizes sexuality, body image and deafness. It’s tone deaf.
The story also shortcuts so many plot points that, had they been more developed, could have been good. Sierra’s parents, for example, are played by famous actors Lea Thompson and Alan Ruck. It’s clear there is some deep-rooted tension among the three, but the parents get so little air time that the eventual blow-up fight doesn’t carry the emotional weight it was meant to. This happens with plenty of the climactic scene, like the eventual reveal to Jamey that Veronica and Sierra have been catfishing him. It was a blink-and-you-miss-it moment, that was acted with little emotion or enthusiasm — not that I’m faulting the actors, because it was truly awful writing and directing in this scene.
This is a problem throughout the film — everything happens so fast without any unpacking of the emotional trauma at all. Veronica forgives Sierra for doing something insanely horrible without any discussion of the event. Sierra’s best friend Dan does the same.
It’d be so much easy to root for the film if Sierra was likeable. But she’s not. She doesn’t do her homework, then turns it in late but doesn’t follow the assignment guidelines at all, and is rewarded. She fakes being deaf so Jamey won’t recognize her voice. She hacks Veronica’s Instagram and posts screenshots of Veronica being dumped on DM, without much consequence. I should add, there might have been consequences but they weren’t shown, explained or explored.
So much has been written about the issues with catfishing, poor humor choices and more, that I don’t want to repeat what other authors have done so well. Just Google “Sierra Burgess is a Loser” and “catfishing” together and you’ll find plenty.
I’ll just talk about the one scene in particular I found horrifying. Jamey takes the real Veronica on a date to the movies, and Sierra hides in the theatre. When he later makes a move on her to kiss her, Veronica covers his eyes and has Sierra replace her, so he ends up kissing Sierra without knowing it. This isn’t the most extreme consent — but it’s still awful! He thought he was kissing one girl and kissed another. It’s pretty gross, in my opinion, that Netflix makes this seem casual, funny and romantic. It also makes one of Jamey’s last lines (“Have we done that before?” post-consensual kiss) a throw-away line, rather than something that should have been discussed.
I thoroughly disliked this movie and found it hard to watch. In my opinion, this could have done so much better as a platonic love story between two women, one who is a popular bully and one who is a slightly-overweight “loser.” I’d have watched that movie, but the writing had to go ahead and making rooting for that difficult as well.
This ends on a high note, since I like saying something good about everything. Yet again, Noah Centineo shines, as an actor and character. He is the only genuine and kind-hearted person in the film. The way he originally approached Veronica is respectful. The fact that he is such a good older brother to his deaf, younger brothers is clear and the way he treats Sierra when he thinks she is deaf is so nice as well. He’s the star quarterback, but doesn’t act like one. His friends aren’t cool (“Only losers hang out with losers” is repeated quite often) and he thinks of football as an awesome emotional experience, a hot take you don’t get too often. He’s forward yet respectful about liking Veronica/Sierra, and maybe he shouldn’t have sent an unsolicited shirtless selfie (definitely shouldn’t have), but I have no bones to pick other than that.
I’m disappointed that this was written and made the way it was. It wouldn’t have been too difficult to make this more culturally aware, and it makes you wonder what in the world the writers were thinking. In some ways, having two women be the center of a popular film would be a huge plus in our society. But by making them awful people and making the only likeable characters men, this film just reinforces gender stereotypes that feel like a huge step backwards. I doubt it even passes the Bechdel test. Better luck next time, Netflix… but thanks for existing, Noah.