Arts, Features

REVIEW: ‘Sierra Burgess is a Loser’ romanticizes catfishing, fails to live up to hype

“Sierra Burgess Is a Loser,” which released Friday on Netflix, feels like a glorified, slightly higher-budget Disney Channel original movie. And as much as I love “High School Musical,” that’s certainly not a compliment.

Netflix’s latest romantic comedy “Sierra Burgess Is a Loser,” starring Shannon Purser, premiered Friday. PHOTO COURTESY OF NETFLIX

Borderline unwatchable at worst and a hesitant guilty pleasure at best, “Sierra Burgess Is a Loser” tells the story of Sierra, an awkward high school girl who finds herself in an unexpected romance after her classmate, popular cheerleader Veronica, gives Sierra’s number to Jamey, the quarterback of another local high school.

While Jamey and Sierra form a relationship under false pretenses, Veronica finds herself needing to shed her social persona to appear smarter for her college boyfriend. So, the two girls decide to help each other out.

Veronica helps Sierra by convincing Jamey that he’s talking to her rather than Sierra, and in return, Sierra gives Veronica everything she needs to wow her man intellectually. Things quickly begin to spiral out of control until the lies and cover-ups eventually catch up with the girls.

Shannon Purser, of “Stranger Things” fame, stars in the role alongside Noah Centineo as Jamey, who recently appeared in Netflix’s hit movie, “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before.” Kristine Froseth plays Veronica.

There’s nothing noticeably horrendous about any of the actors’ delivery, aside from some lines where the fault is clearly on the writers and not the performers. Yet none of the young actors come anywhere close to being impressive in this film.

The only one who makes an impression is RJ Cyler as Dan, Sierra’s best friend, and even he is working with less than stellar material.

Perhaps that is actually the movie’s biggest misstep. Sierra Burgess isn’t a loser — she’s just a bad person.

The film drags along at an unbelievably slow pace, but there are a couple of exciting moments and a handful of scenes that might grab the audience’s attention long enough to keep them from checking the time. On the whole, the film feels bloated and too long.

Beyond its glaring faults, many of the film’s issues are minor or relatively inoffensive. Sure, the colors are washed out and unappealing, but no one was going into this film expecting Oscar nominations for cinematography. There’s definitely still a place for movies similar to this one, especially on Netflix.

But there’s a bigger issue at play. The story romanticizes catfishing in a problematic way, and make no mistake, catfishing is exactly what’s happening here. The phenomenon of masked internet identities is a serious one, especially in the digital age.

It’s not at all hyperbolic to say that some of the messages found in “Sierra Burgess” are dangerous. The story’s conclusion essentially implies that catfishing is OK as long as you learn to believe in yourself afterward. Never mind the fact that Sierra takes absolutely no responsibility for her actions until she is forced to.

Perhaps that is actually the movie’s biggest misstep. Sierra Burgess isn’t a loser — she’s just a bad person.

Interesting characters, especially those in coming-of-age films, need to be flawed and imperfect. Those qualities are essential to the genre and are the very things that allow an audience to better identify themselves with the characters on the screen.

But Sierra’s story isn’t relatable. Or at least it shouldn’t be. Anyone who looks at her arc in this film and says, “You know what? This reminds me of myself,” should be concerned. Her redemption arc is undeserved.

Perhaps the film feels more stale in the wake of some excellent coming-of-age films released in the last couple of years. Films such as “Lady Bird” and “Eighth Grade” immediately come to mind.

These are films that are unflinching in their examination of high school life and coming-of-age tales. They’re raw, powerful, but most importantly, they understand the gray areas. They understand that the teenage world is messy, tricky and confusing.

“Sierra Burgess” attempts to drive home a message similar to this. It says, “Oh look, the pretty girl has deep and complex feelings, and the wacky one has inner beauty. We’re not all that different after all!”

Somehow, in the film’s threadbare attempt at deconstructing stereotypes, the movie becomes all the more stereotypical. There’s no substance to be found here. On one hand, that’s OK. Deep, profound messages aren’t a requirement for every movie added to or released on Netflix.

The issue is that “Sierra Burgess Is a Loser” pretends as if it actually has something interesting to say, when all it really has to offer is below-average filmmaking and incredibly questionable messages.

 

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