Not unlike Mean Girls or 21 Jump Street, Netflix's newest rom-com, Sierra Burgess Is a Loser, is an ode to crappy high school stereotypes, teen drama, and second chances. In the age of catfishing and consent, this movie is also timely. It's a poignant reminder teenagers can be cruel (maybe even crueler to themselves than to each other), but it relies way too much on stereotypes to be groundbreaking.
Less complex than Netflix's other newly released romance,To All the Boys I've Loved Before, Sierra Burgess follows a nerdy girl who e-meets a popular football player from a rival school and "catfishes" him (or leads him to believe she's someone else on social media). The film does one thing very well: build the relationship between Sierra Burgess (Shannon Purser), who comes from a loving home with parents who teach her to use her brain, and Veronica (Kristine Froseth), who has an emotionally abusive mother. The friends bond over their crushes on two boys and decide they can help each other win their hearts. Concerned her crush Jamey (Noah Centineo) will dump her if he finds out what she looks like, Sierra tricks him into thinking she's Veronica for as long as possible. Meanwhile, Veronica uses Sierra's smarts to pass her classes and grab the attention of her ex. Turns out, the relationship that develops between "nerd girl" Sierra and "popular chick" Veronica is the real love story to watch.
At first, their relationship feels forced. Veronica's disdain for Sierra is apparent. But that changes after Sierra visits her at home and meets Veronica's train wreck of a mom. The girls soon commiserate about their misfortunes, and Veronica begs Sierra to let her pluck her eyebrows. They even pull off a Skype session together with Jamey (Veronica sits in front of a computer and moves her lips as Sierra speaks from behind the screen). Their excitement is cute, and not long after, Veronica invites Sierra to a party with her. When Veronica's mean girl friends ask what Sierra is doing there, Veronica defends her in a way that only a true friend would. But eventually, the antics become too much. The girls cross the line when Veronica goes on a date with Jamey, asks him to close his eyes so she can kiss him, and Sierra takes her place. This scenes could have been a teachable moment, but instead, it suggests what Sierra and Veronica is doing is OK — and without consequence. In reality, taking advantage of someone's vulnerability is never OK. "Catfishing" often occurs when people either don't feel confident in themselves or — not as common — when they're looking for revenge. In this film, it's presented as harmless: Sierra thinks Jamey won't like her for who she is, and therefore, she catfishes.
It was a fun ride watching Sierra and Veronica's friendship bloom, but I wanted more from this movie. Could it have been shorter? Yes. An hour and 45 minutes is a tad too long. And, at the end of the day, I've seen this story before. Should there have been more face-to-face interactions (lots of texting and screenshots in this film) between the characters? Absolutely. In the end, though, there's one strong takeaway: Be yourself, whoever that may be... unless you’re a terrible person. Don’t be a terrible person. Oh, and try not to be creepy. Catfishing is bad.
Without a doubt, the shining star of the movie is Centineo (of To All the Boys I've Loved Before fame) who plays the big hearted football player Sierra has a crush on. Centineo isn’t new to Hollywood, but he is the internet’s most recent heartthrob. The young Mark Ruffalo lookalike has the sexy swag and voice to match. He’s endearing as Jamey — especially when he tries to take a shirtless selfie and immediately feels ashamed by it. "Please disregard that last message ahaha," he writes after he realizes what he's done. Sierra responds with a picture of an elephant and the message "real women have curves," and they move on. Later, he admits to still having glow in the dark stars on the ceiling of his bedroom. In other words, he's adorable. As much as I love him, Jamey unfortunately isn't the main character. Had that been the case, this could have been a much better movie.
Like a lot of rom-coms, Sierra Burgess is a good one to watch with ice cream and wine (or cupcakes and whiskey) in PJs on a rainy Sunday afternoon. It’s not the most memorable watch, but I think we can look forward to seeing Purser, Froseth, and definitely Centineo in more developed roles in the near future.
Don't forget: You are a magnificent beast.