‘Sierra Burgess Is a Loser’ explores love in the age of catfishing

New Netflix Original movie stars “Stranger Things” actress Shannon Purser and “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” actor Noah Centineo.

This review contains spoilers.

In a tale of modern attraction, an anonymous text message leads to a connection between two teens from opposite ends of the social spectrum.

“Sierra Burgess Is a Loser” joins Netflix’s growing collection of original teenage romance films, including titles like “Candy Jar,” “The Kissing Booth” and “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before.”

Played by “Stranger Things” actress Shannon Purser, band geek Sierra Burgess is far from popular at her high school. She’s a curvy girl with curly, ginger locks and freckled skin – much like a young Molly Ringwald.

In the school hallways, Sierra must face the constant bullying of cheerleader Veronica (Kristine Froseth), who labels her as a “loser” and critiques her appearance.

When Veronica is approached by quarterback Jamey (Noah Centineo) while out with her friends, she gets the mischievous idea to give him Sierra’s phone number instead of her own.

Later that night, Sierra gets an anonymous text message from Jamey, who thinks he’s really speaking to Veronica. She receives a smiling selfie from him upon asking, “Who is this?” Completely enamored with what she sees, Sierra continues texting with the boy, and their conversations quickly become flirty. From there, the texts turn into long phone calls.

Sierra soon realizes that Jamey thinks she is Veronica. Feeling insecure, she does nothing to deny this, despite the humorous efforts of her friend Dan (RJ Cyler).

While Sierra and Dan are volunteering to collect trash at the park, they run into Jamey and his younger brother playing football. Seeing an opportunity for Sierra to come clean, Dan starts up a conversation with them. Sierra, knowing that Jamey would recognize her from her voice, pretends to be deaf. In what is probably my favorite moment in the whole film, Jamey is immediately confused by her fake sign language and proceeds to introduce her to his actually deaf brother. Sierra struggles to compose herself, leading to an awkward exchange.

As their phone relationship grows closer, Jamey suggests that he and “Veronica” try video chatting. To conceal her true identity, Sierra enlists the help of the real Veronica in exchange for tutoring. Together, they catfish Jamey over lip-synced video chats and an in-person date.

In a particularly uncomfortable scene that borderlines nonconsensual, Jamey and Veronica lean against the hood of his Jeep at the end of their date. Jamey, while going in for the first kiss, is told by Veronica to close his eyes; little does Jamey know, Veronica steps back and lets Sierra, who was spying on them the entire time, be the one to kiss him. She disappears before his eyes are open again. I was left feeling upset for Jamey, who never learns about the switch.

From that moment on, it was hard for me, as a viewer, to feel sympathetic for Sierra. Her actions continue along a downward spiral as she abandons Dan, manipulates Jamey and performs a rather vengeful act against Veronica, who had actually become a close friend.

As one would expect from a rom-com such as this, Sierra and Jamey get together at the end of the film, going as dates to the homecoming dance. Even though Jamey feels betrayed after he discovers what really was going on, he easily forgives her. Veronica, who was also wronged, does the same.

For me, it wasn’t the ending that I felt Sierra deserved. Her actions seemed nothing short of cruel and selfish; I don’t think she ever truly felt the consequences. Had the ending paid more attention to the issue of catfishing and shown that relationships are nothing without trust, I think the film would have been more impactful.

Although the film is far from perfect, I found it refreshing that there wasn’t a model-thin lead or a “The Princess Diaries” makeover moment, where the geeky girl must change everything about her appearance in order to appeal to the popular jock. When Sierra embraced her differences and revealed her true self, Jamey fell for her. It serves as a great message for the bigger and nerdier girls who don’t feel positively represented by the things they see in the media.

If you’re searching for a noncommittal film for your Friday movie night, “Sierra Burgess Is a Loser” is a good fit for the occasion. It’s entertaining and best enjoyed over a bowl of popcorn with your friends, not putting too much thought into every action of the main character.

Edited by Siena DeBolt | sdebolt@themaneater.com

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