After Netflix’s successful release of To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, teen romcom fanatics had high hopes for Netflix’s September original, Sierra Burgess Is a Loser. Viewers were excited for the classic love story, where the main character, a shy and smart girl who doesn't fit the mold of a “popular” high school teen wins over the stunning yet compassionate jock. The Netflix original had all of the elements necessary for a successful movie: a plot that's essentially a modern-day Cyrano de Bergerac, empowering main themes of self-love and worth, a relatable, easy-to-root- for protagonist played by Stranger Things’ Shannon Purser, and a charming love interest played by Noah Centineo, who had already won the hearts of millions in To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. Despite its perfect storm conditions, most viewers agree that Sierra Burgess Is a Loser was in no way a winner.
In the opening scenes of the movie, Sierra is depicted as an intelligent and kind teenage girl who is comfortable in her own skin, despite being bullied by peers for her appearance and weight. She appears nonchalant in the face of classmates' cruel comments and peer pressure. However, after entering the film as a highly likable character, Sierra devolves into a self-conscious teen when Jamey, a popular and handsome quarterback from another town, accidentally texts her thinking that she is Veronica, the most popular cheerleader in her school.
Instead of telling Jamey who she really is, Sierra continues to text him, pretending to be someone she’s not. When confronted by Veronica, Sierra uses self-pity to justify her actions. Inevitably, Jamey asks to have a conversation over the phone, and Sierra reluctantly obliges, explaining that her voice is deeper because she has a cold. As the movie progresses Sierra's creepiness is only enhanced, and it spirals out of control in more disturbing ways. For instance, when Jamey asks to speak via FaceTime, Sierra has Veronica talk with him, and Veronica and Jamey even go on a date to keep up the scheme. When Jamey finally asks to kiss Veronica, Sierra quickly swaps into her place, prompting issues about consent that plague the movie.
Sierra Burgess Is a Loser suffers from two major flaws. First, the movie is wholly unconcerned with the moral issues it raises. In this era of female empowerment and consent, the movie glosses over the fact that Sierra deceives Jamey throughout the film, including a deceptive physical encounter. Catfishing is illegal, but the filmmakers would have us believe it should be treated as clever or cute.
But perhaps viewers' biggest qualm is the fact that the film reinforces the very stereotypes that it originally set out to deconstruct. Sierra digresses from a confident and comfortable high schooler to an insecure, self-pitying teen. Even further, she resorts to immoral behavior and cruelty. The filmmakers seem to imply that her behavior is acceptable because she is not “traditionally beautiful.” In this regard, they fail to convey a critical message: outward beauty is not nearly as important as inward beauty.
Further criticism for the Netflix film stemmed from the offensive comments that were made on many occasions throughout. Not only is the script cluttered with homophobic jokes, but it is also very ableist. Viewers have taken to Twitter to express their disappointments, including deaf model and activist Nyle DiMarco, who wrote, “Finally more deaf actors/representation and ASL inclusion in films…Only to find out the deaf character was written and used for a terrible joke. PS-pretending to be deaf is NOT OK.”
With poorly addressed issues spanning practices of catfishing, consent, homophobia, and self-deprecation, Sierra Burgess Is a Loser did not even come close to viewer expectations. Unfortunately, it neglected to capitalize upon its cinematic promise and subsequent potential for societal impact.