WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD
Imagine sitting in a theatre and seeing the credits roll and wondering “that’s it?” That’s what I felt, sitting in my room on September 7th 2018, and looking at the end credits of Sierra Burgess is A Loser, a modern retelling of Cyrano de Bergerac, a play by Edmond Rostand. I had spent months counting down the days until the arrival of this Netflix original, but I was not satisfied to say the least. It wasn’t very clear on what the message was, and I wasn’t necessarily rooting for the main character, Sierra Burgess, by the end of the movie. Similar sentiments were felt by viewers around the world who even more than me were hugely disappointed with what this movie had and what it came out with.
The movie’s plot is about Sierra Burgess(played by Shannon Purser), a girl who doesn’t fit in with the high school “definition” of pretty, who one day gets a text message from a football player named Jamey(played by Noah Centineo) from another school. He mistakenly texts Sierra thinking she’s Veronica(played by Kristine Froseth), the popular mean girl at Sierra’s high school. Using her wit and charm, Sierra starts up a texting relationship with Jamey. One day, when he asks to video chat with, Sierra has to team up with Veronica in order to not blow her cover. The rest of the story is about how the whole catfishing scenario leads Sierra and Veronica into unusual situations, including forming a friendship with one another. This story had quite a few things wrong with it.
Firstly, catfishing is something no one should ever do. For those who don’t know, catfishing is when you fool someone online into getting into a relationship with you by adopting a fake persona. Sierra Burgess knew what she was doing by continuing to converse with him via text. While there is a gender swap with Cyrano de Bergerac, Teen Vogue notes, “the gender swap lays bare the fact that such deceptive and manipulative behavior from anyone is inexcusable.” Noah Centineo, himself, was catfished by someone on Instagram who he developed a seemingly intimate relationship with, only to find out that they weren’t what they seemed.
It would have made a difference if Sierra felt in the slightest way apologetic or bad for tricking the guy she liked. However, when given the opportunity to reveal the truth, she chooses to act deaf as Jamey and her had previously spoken on the phone and he would have recognized her voice.
“The gender swap lays bare the fact that such deceptive and manipulative behavior from anyone is inexcusable” – Teen Vogue
The next problem laid in the kissing scene. Consent. Sierra Burgess is A Loser seems to have forgotten about that aspect. At the end of Veronica and Jamey’s first date, they’re about to share their first kiss in an open parking lot. Meanwhile, Sierra who is hiding under Jamey’s car is lured out from under the car as Veronica gets Jamey’s eyes to close before they kiss. Stepping aside, Veronica watches as Sierra shares her and Jamey’s first kiss, who during this entire situation thinks he’s kissing Veronica. This may be a modern retelling of Cyrano de Bergerac, but we’re at a point in this day and age where consent is important regardless of gender. This scene may have seemed cute in the moment, but looking back at it now, it’s distasteful.
Another issue that made me dislike Sierra’s character is her sense of insecurity. When she sees Veronica and Jamey kissing before the football game, she humiliates Veronica by exposing to the whole school the fact that Veronica was dumped by her college boyfriend via DM(direct message online). While such a rash decision could be attributed to Sierra’s anger at Veronica for “betraying” her, it makes her no different from the sort of bully that Veronica was in the beginning. Veronica’s character develops in an ascending manner while Sierra’s deteriorates. That’s something new in a film!
“Why can’t people of all shapes and sizes find love the same way?” – Simran Sethi
Sharing a similar opinion to me, here’s what some of my friends who saw the film had to say. Serena Brown, a senior found the movie “cliché”. “There were a lot of cringey scenes. It definitely wasn’t a great movie, in my opinion, but I did think it was a little cute. I thought about stopping the movie several times, but eventually, I sucked it up and finished it.”
Simran Sethi, also a senior, had a more critical view of the film. She felt it was a “weird movie.” Simran felt that movie was trying to promote body acceptance as Sierra Burgess has a heavy build, but the message seems a little misconstrued in its portrayal. She said, “It probably unintentionally fat shames its protagonist throughout the movie in the sense that she’s unable to attract the boy in a less unusual way and has to hide behind the face of a quintessentially pretty girl to get noticed by a guy. Why can’t people of all shapes and sizes find love the same way?”
She continued to mention how Sierra’s actions were questionable. “Sierra’s actions can’t be justified. The movie romanticized catfishing. And she’s unacceptably mean to Veronica when Sierra was the one who pushed her to woo the guy.”
Serena chimed in once again. “I agree with Simran. I feel like…Sierra didn’t deserve a happy ending as catfishing isn’t something people should be doing.”
However, during an interview with elle.com, Shannon Purser reacted to the backlash saying that she would mirror similar emotions to the audience if she was “looking at it through the lens of a romantic comedy.” She continued saying that she doesn’t “see Sierra as an evil character”, more of a character who makes bad decisions after being thrust into a situation like hers — falling for a guy who thinks she’s a popular cheerleader. But she did say that Sierra could have taken a whole different approach to this predicament by being honest, and so shouldn’t be “absolved” of her actions.
I don’t think the film was terrible, but I think it needs to work on what exactly it’s trying to say. A movie like Sierra Burgess is a loser could do so much with its underlying themes such as physical appearance and finding love. It’s sad that this movie wasted those components.