Teenage romantic comedy movies have become a staple among our generation. It feels like once every few months, a new romantic comedy is being released and being labeled as the “next big thing” for viewers. When it was announced that Netflix was releasing “Sierra Burgess Is a Loser,” it became the “next big thing” due to the familiar high school storyline, the acceptance it represented with the body type of the protagonist, and of course because it was yet another romantic movie starring Noah Centineo as the cliche perfect high school boy.
Netflix has produced a gamut of original series and movies throughout its time. Their reputation is a stellar one, with “The Crown,” “Stranger Things” and “Orange Is the New Black” winning not only the favor of audiences and pop culture, but that of The Emmys, The Golden Globes and the British Academy Television Craft Awards just to name a few. With so many hits, it is normal for everything they produce to not always get the response they were hoping for. With their recent movie release of “Sierra Burgess Is a Loser,” the response was that of a menial “eh.”
Premiering on Netflix on Sept. 7 2018, the anticipation for this release was high, not only due to the fact that it was following so closely to the release of another Netflix hit movie, “To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before,” but because it featured a protagonist, Sierra Burgess (Shannon Purser), who represented a body type that often gets overlooked in popular media and film. Despite the noise this movie was creating, after premiering the response was a mixed one.
“Sierra Burgess Is a Loser” centered around Burgess, a high school senior, with dreams of attending Stanford University. After being told how normal her college application is, Burgess is determined to find a way to make herself stand out. After a failed attempt in joining the men’s track and field team, Burgess decides to start a tutoring business and posts a flyer with her number to a school bulletin board. Enter the stereotypical mean popular girl, Veronica (Kristine Froseth), who rips it down and gives Burgess’s number to Jamey (Noah Centineo), a boy she and her friends deem “dorky.” Next thing you know, Jamey is texting Burgess thinking she is Veronica. Instead of ignoring the texts, Burgess decides to go along with it allowing Jamey to believe she is Veronica and a catfish style relationship ensues. Burgess’s best friend, Dan (RJ Cyler) doesn’t agree with the catfish style relationship Burgess is pursuing and this causes a rift in their friendship.
It should be noted that having a female protagonist on screen that goes against the grain of what society says a teenage girl should be like is a breath of fresh air. Purser’s raw portrayal of Sierra Burgess as an unapologetic English loving student, comfortable in her own skin and small, close-knit friend group, is something that audiences have been longing for and young girls can relate to. Giving representation to a body type that we don’t often see in a movie’s protagonist shows the influence that the body positivity movement is having all around us; this deliberate action by the producers of this movie creates a sense of warmth, and inclusivity to the movie that aids in drawing the viewers in.
When speaking to Refinery29 about being a “fat high school girl in a love story,” Purser said, “Even though Sierra certainly has flaws and is a complicated character, she’s a real human being. Just the opportunity for me to bring a story to life about a group of people that doesn’t get to have stories about them was important. It would have been so meaningful as a child for me to see as the fat girl get the guy. To get the kiss at the end. To show up in her homecoming dress, without losing weight, and to be looked at as beautiful.”
But it should be recognized that this movie romanticizes and normalizes obsessive behavior towards the person you’re crushing on, along with catfishing and extreme cyberbullying. While it is normal to have butterflies and feel like you can’t stop thinking about your crush, the extent in which Burgess goes to cultivate a relationship with Jamey crosses the line of having unhealthy habits in a relationship. The duration that Burgess catfishes Jamey for, along with faking a Skype call with him, and switching places with Veronica on a date so she can finally kiss him can’t help but make the viewer feel empathy towards Jamey due to the master manipulation he is experiencing by the two girls. Additionally, Burgess’s multiple vicious act of cyberbullying with intent to harm for revenge highlight the traits in Burgess that should not be shown as “ideal” or “normal,” as this movie choses to do. The simple fact that Burgess was involved in these acts and faced no repercussions at all (besides a grounding from her parents) is something that no one ever should condone.
The movie had a good core plot, but overall was executed poorly with lack of social consideration for the connotations of Burgess’s actions. The movie would’ve had more of an impact if it would’ve recognized the wrongdoing of Burgess and showed her dealing with the realistic consequences of her actions. Rather than focusing on the romantic relationship with Jamey, the end of this movie should’ve focused on the reconciliation of Burgess’s friendship with Dan, along with a rebuilding of trust between two unlikely best friends, Burgess and Veronica.