Netflix is currently in the throes of a rom-com renaissance. Finally giving us smart new romantic movies, directed mostly by women, we’ve been spoilt lately with the mighty To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (2018) and to a lesser extent Claire Scanlon’s Set It Up (2018). Both movies are better than most films of this nature and I am loving it. So when I heard about Sierra Burgess starring my one true love Shannon Purser I got super excited.
SBIAL is not directed by a female director though and it’s also sadly not nearly as good. Are the two connected?
Sierra Burgess is a Loser (2018)
A case of mistaken identity results in unexpected romance when the most popular girl in high school and the biggest loser must come together to win over their crushes.
Sierra Burgess sets itself up in the usual way, establishing roles early on and leaving us in no doubt of who’s who in the social hierachy. Sierra (Purser) is the daughter of a famous literary father and a self-help guru mother (Alan Ruck and Lea Thompson) and ‘isn’t like other girls’ – or at least she prides herself on being one of the only girls who doesn’t care about her appearance. She’s smart basically and not distracted by such trivial things. (Yes there’s a slightly superior air to her but why not when she’s treated like literal dog shit by some of her peers?).
Veronica (Kristine Froseth) by contrast is a stone cold fox but a shitty person. She’s super mean to anyone ‘less’ and pretty horrid to her friends too. She absolutely has her sights set on humiliating Sierra just for the pure fun of it – which is how this whole tale begins.
Let me tell you that I will always root for the underdog. Sierra isn’t always likable but she is motherfucking Barb from Stranger Things and therefore, I’m her homegirl for life. She isn’t ugly by any stretch but I get that we’re supposed to consider her the lowest of the low on the looks and body beautiful scale (e.g. she’s completely normal). When Veronica pinches some of Sierra’s tutoring flyers and gives out her number to a hottie Jamey (Noah Centineo) who believes it’s Veronica’s – well, you’ve got yourself a modern-day retelling of Cyrano.
You didn’t think Sierra could pull this off on her own with her hideous ginger face and oafish stature did ya?
Sierra starts romancing Jamey by text very quickly but soon hits a wall when he asks her to face time. Being the resourceful brainiac that she is, she quickly sees a window of opportunity and goes for it. Veronica, you see is trying to impress a college boy who thinks she’s a dummy. If only someone were on hand to school her in the ways of the ancient philosphers in exchange for a borrow of her face and body for a couple of hours?
So our unlikely duo team up to pull the wool over the eyes of their boy crushes – and fall in love with each other instead. Well, sort of, unfortunately not in the way I was cheering for – but in the friendship sense. For me this is the most important relationship to come out of the film, who needs boys?
Sierra quickly learns that Veronica’s picture perfect life is very far from it (her mother, played by Chrissy Metz, is bitter, miserable and extremely hard on Veronica) which doesn’t excuse her behaviour but does explain some of it. Meanwhile, Sierra suffers for the pressure placed upon her by a brilliant and famous dad. She’s also just found out that she can’t just walk into her chosen college with straight As – she needs to stand out.
As the girls scheme and Jamey falls deeper and deeper for the Veronica/Sierra hybrid, things get increasingly elaborate (and stupid) – and Sierra’s friend Dan (RJ Cyler) implores her to come clean. Look, I don’t buy most of this and although I want to believe that the geek can get the hot guy (because I know it happens), this set up just doesn’t ring realistic at all. The cat fishing is creepy and nobody is as good and pure as Jamey is. We’re supposed to examine teen stereotypes here and realise that that’s all they are but surely the dishonesty would render forgiveness impossible – or at least never as quickly as it pans out onscreen? I know that’s a boring take but sue me.
Anyway, there’s a bit where Sierra pretends to be deaf and it’s really stupid. Then she does something horrible to Veronica proving that she’s no better than the school mean girls. The film is not terrible but it just isn’t in the same league as To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and I resent it for that.
The final prom scene is very much a homage to John Hughes’ Pretty in Pink, down to the music and Sierra’s frock but it’s still not a good enough vehicle for my babe Shannon.
Justice for Barb (still)!