Where can I start with "Sierra Burgess Is A Loser"? Where should I start?
The basic premise of the movie is as follows: Unpopular teen Sierra (Shannon Purser, of "Stranger Things" and "Riverdale" fame) receives a text message from an unknown number. The sender turns out to be puppy-dog-eyed football player Jamey (Noah Centineo, who recently starred in another Netflix rom-com, "To All The Boys I've Loved Before"). The catch? Jamey thinks that he's texting Veronica (Kristine Froseth), better known as Ronnie, a popular, ridiculously mean cheerleader who despises Sierra.
Now, I've read and watched my fair share of romantic media, and I think there are some laudable ideas that the movie attempts to innovate on the genre. It also fails at the execution of all of those ideas, so it doesn't really deserve points for that.
"Sierra Burgess Is A Loser" tries its damnedest to subvert the popular girl vs. nerd dichotomy presented by much "not-like-other-girls" media by having Sierra and Ronnie overcome their differences and become friends through their catfishing experience. They almost feel empowered as they teach each other and trick Jamey together. However, this fails on two fronts.
The first is that Ronnie, the more interesting character by a long shot, with her broken home and completely unsupportive mother, never quite gets the conclusion to her story arc that she's due. She learns to stop caring about her appearance and social status, but the movie doesn't effectively address her relationship with the asshole "college freshman" whose name I don't remember because the point of his character in the plot is to be a douche.
The reason that Ronnie spends time with Sierra in the first place is that Sierra is tutoring her so she can seem smart enough for him. The natural conclusion to this would be that Ronnie learns that she doesn't need to change herself to impress anyone else, and maybe she tells that to college freshman's stupid thirty-two-year-old face. Does that happen? Nope.
Instead, he manipulates her into sleeping with him, before dumping her again, and the movie only brings it up in context of Sierra telling the whole school about it, as well as a few brief throwaway lines about how Ronnie should be looking for someone like Jamey. Her story is overlooked in order for us to watch Sierra make more bad life decisions.
The second reason that "Sierra Burgess Is A Loser" fails at the idea of friendship is that, while Ronnie is willing to throw away her popularity to spend time with a "loser" like Sierra, Sierra still considers Ronnie an enemy in the end. Even after seeing the person behind the front Ronnie puts up, and after everything the girls go through together, Ronnie epitomizes the ideal "thin, blonde cheerleader" persona that Sierra cannot be. Thusly, Sierra dives deep into slut-shaming culture to post Ronnie's breakup DM and an incriminating picture on her Instagram, blaming Ronnie for kissing Jamey (who still does not understand what's happening) in the way the woman always seems to take the blame. Keep in mind that Jamey thinks that Ronnie is the one he's dating at this moment in time.
Of course, Ronnie forgives her for a nice and tidy ending, after hearing Sierra's song about her insecurities, and fixes things with Jamie. Still. How can the audience trust that their friendship is real, at the end, when Sierra is willing to tear it apart the moment Ronnie seems to fulfill whatever expectations Sierra has of her?
The movie also deeply fails at the "rom" part of "rom-com." Jamey is the cute boy, the nerd, the jock. He's popular but sensitive. He talks about being the quarterback of his high school team, and then he immediately tells Ronnie that he's a "loser" too. In other words, he's every single guy a straight teenage girl could want, and who he is as a character is not important. It's impossible for you to care about two young people "falling in love," when one of them is literally irrelevant.
Speaking of falling in love, the movie's attempts at being relatable to the teens falls somewhat flat. Part of it is the general movie problem of casting young adults to play teenagers, but much of it was the use of technology, the medium through which Jamey and Sierra's romance blossoms. I was sitting in a group of 18 to 19-year-olds when I watched this movie, and there was a lot of yelling at the screen every time they flirted via strange animal pictures or Jamey sent a mirror selfie.
"Why doesn't he just use Snapchat?"
You can't feel the attraction or the romance in their flirting beyond Sierra's clear infatuation with Jamey. It's a weak setup for the end-result of them getting together. Nothing about their relationship feels strong enough to last a big reveal that "Veronica" has been Sierra all along.
My most minor complaint about this movie is that RJ Cyler is wasted on this movie. He plays Dan, Sierra's "best friend," who I didn't mention in the plot synopsis because he's just that unimportant. Dan fits basically every side character trope you can imagine, so much so that the reveal that he got a female date to the big homecoming dance legitimately surprised me. He's meant to be a voice of reason, and we're meant to care that Sierra spends the entire movie ditching him, but, really, I had to Google his name for this review.
Ultimately, the biggest drawback of "Sierra Burgess" is that it fails to create empathy in the audience. Everything works out for Sierra in the end, and you don't want it to. Despite being the underdog, everything Sierra does makes her feel actively unlikable. Enough has been said about her pretending to be deaf and the odd "why does everyone think I'm a lesbian?" attempts at humor, but what I want to touch on is that Sierra never faces consequences for her actions. It's glossed over with Jamey saying, "Sierra, what you did was terrible. I mean like, bad, really bad." She learns self-love, Ronnie fixes everything with Jamey, and she kisses Noah Centineo in the end. And nothing at all matters.
My ideal end to this movie? Jamey explains to them that, while he understands the reasons for it, catfishing is terribly wrong and he's not Sierra's ideal fantasy man, thereby giving him a character. Sierra actively accepts consequences for her actions and makes it up to Ronnie with more than a song about why she's the victim here. She and Ronnie fall madly in love. The end.