The latest Netflix original film, Sierra Burgess is a Loser, is a mess.
I recently re-watched Sixteen Candles and was horrified to realize how a movie I once loved is chock full of problematic tropes, including the glorification of date rape. In fact, many of the movies I grew up with relied on themes that make me unsure that I even want my own daughter to see them.
I remind myself, however, that John Hughes and other moviemakers of the ’80s wrote their movies in a different time. And though it makes me squeamish to think that these narratives were ever acceptable, it’s hard to deny that thirty years ago we weren’t particularly cognizant, as a society, of the messages we were sending young people about sex and relationships.
But times have changed. We’re living now in the height of the #metoo and #timesup movements.
We’re forcing conversations about consent and appropriate behavior to the forefront. We are holding men accountable for their actions and making it clear that sexual misconduct of any kind won’t be tolerated.
That’s why it is shocking that Sierra Burgess is a Loser ever found its way to the public.
The movie’s premise itself raises a red flag, as it is clear from all promotional material that the story revolves around Sierra Burgess (Shannon Purser) catfishing Jamey (Noah Centineo). When Veronica (Kristine Froseth), the popular cheerleader and resident mean girl is approached by Jamey at a diner, she cleverly gives him Sierra’s number instead of her own to avoid being contacted by him later.
Veronica has no relationship to Sierra, other than mercilessly picking on her, and giving Jamey her number is intended as an act of cruelty toward the less beautiful and far less popular girl. (Veronica only has Sierra’s number because she tore down the flyers Sierra had hung in an attempt to drum up customers for her tutoring services.)
Jamey texts “Veronica” and when Sierra receives the message and asks who it is, Jamey responds with a picture. Upon seeing the adorableness that is Noah Centineo, Sierra decides she’s going to engage in conversation with this guy, even though clearly he’s texted the wrong number.
Sierra is inexplicably giddy about a text conversation with someone who thinks he’s talking to someone else. She tells her best friend Dan (RJ Cyler) about how she “met” someone, and he explicitly tells her that what she’s doing is catfishing and that it is illegal.
The movie seems uninterested in this point, though, and continues along as though nothing is wrong.
There are two major problems with this movie. The first is that the ways in which Sierra and Veronica deceive Jamey are well over the line of anything that could or should ever be forgiven.
They go to extreme lengths to convince him he is falling for someone he’s never even spoken to. The movie never deals with the ways in which this kind of deception can mess with a person’s head.
A particular low point is when Sierra sends Veronica on a date with Jamey in order to keep the charade going. When Jamey decides he wants to kiss her, Veronica insists that he close his eyes.
She then has Sierra step in to kiss Jamey, who thinks he’s kissing Veronica. The music swells as if it is supposed to be this magic moment for Sierra, except the whole thing is a complete violation that amounts to kissing someone without consent.
There is no way to look at this scene and come to any conclusion other than it is wrong. The fact that it is in a movie in 2018 with the suggestion that it’s romantic is unfathomable.
The second problem is that the movie tries to make us believe that Sierra is the good guy just because she struggles with low self-esteem.
My heart would have been aching for her during the speech she gives to her parents about how hard it is to exist in her body if she hadn’t been giving that speech after brutally humiliating Veronica on social media. Veronica’s crime? Following the exact plan that Sierra had put into motion.
Sierra is not a character who inspires empathy. She is manipulative and mean, and the truest line in the whole script is when Veronica tells Sierra that her looks are the least ugly thing about her.
Sierra Burgess is a Loser thinks it’s sending the message that outer beauty isn’t nearly as important as inner beauty. We’re supposed to walk away feeling warm and fuzzy because someone who looks like Jamey can fall in love with someone who looks like Sierra. But they forgot to make Sierra worthy of that love.
Actions make us who we are, and Sierra’s actions are despicable. Jamey showing up at Sierra’s house at the end of the film doesn’t reaffirm that inner beauty is what counts, it reaffirms that actions have no consequences and how we treat people doesn’t matter.
The movie could have salvaged itself with a different ending. Had Sierra been forced to reckon with her choices or had we seen the extent of the damage Sierra and Veronica’s deception caused, there could have been real value in this story.
Instead, we’re left with a love story that should never be celebrated and, thirty years after Sixteen Candles, another movie I don’t want to share with my daughter.
What did you think about Sierra Burgess is a Loser? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
Sierra Burgess is a Loser is currently streaming on Netflix
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