Sierra Burgess is a Loser is an adaptation of the classic Edmond Rostand play Cyrano de Bergerac. In the play, Cyrano is an accomplished and talented solider, but his large nose causes him to doubt himself. Due to his insecurity, he is unable to express his love for the beautiful and intelligent Roxanne. So, he uses a cadet, Christian, as a decoy to profess his love to Roxanne. She falls for Cyrano’s words believing Christian to be man behind them.
In this modern retelling, we have a brilliant and sweet high school girl whose insecurity is her weight and not being “traditionally” beautiful. As the Cyrano stand-in, she finds herself in a similarly prickly situation with a lovable jock, and her cheerleader bully. Sierra (played by the increasingly popular and charming Shannon Purser) is a young literary whiz, and daughter of a famous author and motivational speaker. Her parents are played by John Hughes veterans, Alan Ruck and Lea Thompson.
Right off the bat Sierra Burgess is a Loser is obviously a love letter to the classic teen rom-coms of the 80’s, specifically ones made by Hughes – complete with tropes, characters, and musical choices we are familiar with. While all the recognizable tenants of the classic teen rom-com are on put on display, screenwriter Lindsey Beer and director Ian Samuel subvert the tropes and flip the story on its head, giving us yet another refreshing take on the genre.
Sierra Burgess is a Loser follows our titular heroine as she navigates high school to the best of her ability as an overweight teenager. Often bullied by Veronica, the beautiful and skinny head cheerleader, Sierra is insecure – but she is not the type to be self-loathing or wallow. She is smart and uses her intelligence as a shield to her advantage. It’s refreshing to get a heroine who is not overly concerned with her appearance and is able to continue living life. Her unbothered approach to her bully causes her to be the focus of Veronica’s torment.
One day Veronica takes down an ad Sierra put up for her tutoring services and decides to hand Sierra’s number to strangers as a joke. One of those strangers happens to be Jamey, the hunky quarterback from the rival high school who approached Veronica to ask her out. Jamey proceeds to text Sierra believing she is Veronica. This leads to a flirtatious relationship between the two. The trio enter an unlikely love triangle and an even more unlikely alliance emerges between Veronica and Sierra.
Sierra and Veronica team up when Sierra fears revealing who she is to Jamey and convinces Veronica to masquerade as herself. In return, Sierra will tutor Veronica to impress her ex-boyfriend who’s a college student. Both Sierra and Veronica have to go through changes during this ethically ambiguous situation. Purser and Forseth are well matched as rivals turned friends and both bring heart and humanity to their characters. Forseth has to carry a lot of the emotional weight in this strange friendship which forces her to overcome her self-loathing and emotional pressures from her overbearing mother, played by Chrissy Metz. Sierra on the other hand must try to maintain her confidence and body positive attitude, as she is becomes self-conscious during this whole ordeal. The situation reveals the complexities brewing beneath Sierra and Veronica’s tough exteriors. The movie is at it’s best when it focuses on Sierra and Veronica’s insecurities and their growth as their friendship strengths.
Sidenote: RJ Cyler’s Dan plays Sierra’s dorky and lovable best friend very well. More could have been done with the character, but from what we did get, Cyler excels.
The film walks a fairly dangerous line as Sierra’s actions become increasingly questionable the longer this masquerade continues. Eventually, Sierra does something that is extremely out of character and she isn’t able to quite come back from it. It is this decision that highlights the fact that Sierra Burgess isn’t a loser because of her appearance, she is a loser based on her actions. There is a scene in the movie where Sierra’s father explains that actions have consequences and that grounding Sierra is necessary.
Well, the film misses that point. Sierra reveals how ugly she is inside in a manner that flies in the face of everything we know about her, and the seeking forgiveness phase is not nearly as fleshed out as it should have been. The film suffers a bit when Sierra doesn’t face any real consequences for her actions. In fact, there was very little reason for her to do the thing that she does. Having her scheme implode naturally would have sufficed and would earn the ending that she gets.
In conclusion, Sierra Burgess is a Loser succeeds in showing Shannon Purser is more than just Barb from Stranger Things; she is exceptional as Sierra. Despite the horrendous action she takes, Purser does a lot to have us sympathize with Sierra. The film has a lot of great things to say about societal pressures on young girls and their appearance. The romance between Sierra and Jamey is sweet and genuine. It especially hits the mark when time is given to illustrate the impact of parenting with Veronica’s less than ideal scrutiny of her daughter, and Sierra’s mothers inability to see the reality of Sierra’s situation in high school. Sierra Burgess is a Loser could have been improved with some slight modifications in the third act, but all-in-all it is another slam dunk from Netflix that proves the teen rom-com is alive and well.
Sierra Burgess is a Loser hits Netflix on September 7!