Written by: Fiona Underhill, CC2K Staff Writer
The story of Cyrano de Bergerac has been adapted many times, most famously into the 1987 film Roxanne starring Steve Martin, and the 1990 film starring Gerard Depardieu. Netflix’s latest rom-com Sierra Burgess is a Loser is the first high-profile example to gender-swap the roles. It is surprising that it has taken this long to update the story to the modern concept of cat-fishing, using mobile phones and social media to dupe the cute boy into believing the “loser” of the title is, in fact, the most popular and pretty girl in school.
There is much to be uncomfortable with here; the title and marketing are both problematic, and the casting of some key characters raises questions. The beautiful and talented Shannon Purser, forever associated with the #JusticeForBarb meme because of the lack of respect afforded her by Stranger Things, is again disrespected being cast as the ugly duckling. The whole concept is a little icky, but the film says some smart things about teenagers in modern life.
In a style similar to the excellent Edge of Seventeen, Sierra Burgess is a Loser has a retro feel in the music and fashion. The film opens to the strains of 1980s synth music, and one of the first scenes features Sierra’s parents, played by Lea Thompson and Alan Ruck – the filmmakers are clearly trying to throwback to the heady days of John Hughes teen high school rom-coms, which is no bad thing.
Contemporary commentary is cleverly interwoven with Sierra’s best friend Dan (RJ Cyler) talking about the ridiculous feats they have to achieve in order to stand out on college applications or the job market. Sierra says her scheme might work because she’s relying on “their generation’s lack of human interaction.” One thing this will absolutely do is reignite the still-burning embers of lust for Noah Centineo, which is all over the internet since To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before premiered a couple of weeks ago. The world has lost its collective shit over Peter Kavinsky and Centineo is back playing the nice boy we can all fawn over. Jamey is another nice guy role for Centineo and his two best friends are played by Joey Morgan (recently seen in Flower with Zoey Deutch) and Mario Revolori (inexplicably doing a terrible English accent for some reason). There are swoon-worthy scenes of not-Peter Kavinsky climbing rope, trying to perfect the topless selfie, wearing amazing stripy rainbow socks and bonding with his younger brother, who is deaf.
One of the aspects of Sierra Burgess is a Loser that gives pause is the casting of Chrissy Metz as the mother of the hot, popular girl, Veronica (Kristine Froseth). Metz plays a nightmare gymnastics-Mom in a similar vein to a beauty pageant Mom and her character makes viewing uncomfortable; she is clearly supposed to be full of self-loathing because of her weight and is projecting her fears and paranoia onto her daughters, in case they become like her.
There are questionable lines of dialogue, like Jamey referring to Sierra’s “fuller” voice and Veronica’s skinny voice. The message is a little muddled during the film’s inevitable happy ending as well and Netflix should have considered the signals it is sending a little more carefully, especially considering its recent disastrous series Insatiable. There is also a pretty cringe-worthy sequence where Sierra pretends to be deaf to avoid talking, which creates problems because both Jamey and his younger brother know sign language.
All in all, there are too many moments that will make the viewer wince to make this a fully feel-good, relaxing and enjoyable teen rom-com. You will be better off watching To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before for the eleventy billionth time instead.
Author: Fiona Underhill, CC2K Staff Writer
Brit living in Southern California.
Former teacher of Media and Film Studies.
Current film writer for jumpcutonline.com, moviejawn.com and others.