Sierra Burgess Is a Loser
I want the best for Shannon Purser. So, it’s disappointing that she has yet to find the post-Stranger Things vehicle to take her career to the next level. In the two years since her time as Barb, Purser has amassed an online following so large that she got an Emmy nomination and the Duffer brothers had to spend more than a few interviews promising justice for her character. But even with the added notoriety, she has only had a few roles so far; with most of them being a supporting character.
It’s reasonable to think that maybe the popularity of Stranger Things and her character is what make Purser seem star worthy; maybe she was meant to be a supporting actress. But I honestly don’t think so. And neither did the creators of Sierra Burgess Is a Loser. Here was the chance for Netflix to capitalize, not only on Purser, but also on the recently crowned teen rom com heartthrob Noah Centineo. But unfortunately for everyone involved, including me, Sierra Burgess is another dud.
Netflix original films are increasingly frustrating. While their original show selection has continued to grow in quality, their films somehow continue to miss the mark. For every Set It Up and To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before there’s a How It Ends and an Extinction. Sierra Burgess Is a Loser is a missed layup by the streaming giant that is almost unacceptable. By all accounts the film means well. You can tell with every emotional talk about self-esteem. But the premise is just too outlandish for as grounded as the film is made to seem.
Sierra Burgess (Purser) is a witty and talented senior in high school who, as the title suggests, is on the wrong side of popular. She’s a “band geek” and her friend Dan (RJ Cyler) is the only person she feels confident around for at least the first half of the 105 minutes that we spend with her. But when Veronica (Kristine Froseth), the cliché mean girl, gives Sierra’s number to rival school quarterback Jamey (Centineo) instead of her own, it sets the Cyrano de Bergerac-esque plot in motion.
Sierra goes on to have multiple text conversations with Jamey, which leads to them speaking on the phone and him falling for the worn out “I have a cold and my voice is different” gag. And after convincing Veronica to play along to continue this terrible charade, they send selfies and even hop on Skype without him noticing what was going on. But the most disturbing moment comes when Veronica is forced to go on an actual date with Jamey and they switch places just long enough so Sierra can kiss him without him knowing. It was at this point that I considered giving up on the film for good.
Surprisingly, there are a few bright spots that are worth mentioning. The friendship that blossoms between Veronica and Sierra is genuinely compelling and it is actually really nice to watch them grow as characters even if under the most unsettling of circumstances. RJ Cyler also adds great comedic moments whenever necessary and while I generally liked his character, his story wrapping up with him going to an all-girls college feels like a play for laughs that doesn’t land.
Like an especially bad Catfish episode, Sierra Burgess Is a Loser is filled with questionable decisions from the title character that we are supposed to (I think?) feel bad for. But as the bad decisions continued to stack onto each other, the less I could see how the audience was going to forgive Sierra or even want her to end up with her love interest. Nevertheless, it all ends well for her but in a way that feels almost unrealistic after doing what she has (it gets worse than just the catfishing). The film is a poorly constructed and perhaps a poorly timed concept that truly falls flat only weeks after one of Netflix’s best teen rom coms was released starring the same actor. Sierra Burgess Is a Loser isn’t good, and worse, it’s creepy. I watched it so you wouldn’t have to and the only loser here is me.
I give it 2 out of 5 trash cans.