Netflix Now: Sierra Burgess Is A Loser (2018) Reviewed

The play Cyrano de Bergerac was first written and performed in 1897, and yet, 120-plus years later it remains one of the most well-known stories in all of popular culture. 

Whether seeing one of dozens of revivals on Broadway or the West End or Stratford over the years, or one of the many film adaptations and modernizations of the classic tale (Steve Martin’s 1987 film Roxanne is a notable example), everyone is familiar with the tragic love story of the man with the oversized nose. But we keep coming back, because the lesson at the story’s heart, that it’s important to look past the physical to see who a person truly is, is a universal one, and will almost certainly remain relevant for centuries more. The idea lends itself so well to the teen experience that it’s surprising there are so few adaptations aimed at that particular demographic. The new Netflix original movie Sierra Burgess is a Loser comfortably brings the classic into the modern age of cell phones and catfishing.

Our Cyrano, the titular heroine (Shannon Purser, best known as Barb from Stranger Things), responds to a seemingly random text from a young man named Jamey (Noah Centineo, The Fosters). As the two get to know each other, feelings naturally start to develop. Problem is, he believes Sierra is actually popular, beautiful head cheerleader Veronica (Kristine Forseth). As phone conversations turn to Face Timing and (gasp!) actual dates, the clever Sierra, with Veronica’s help, must stay one step ahead of Jamey to keep him from discovering their secret. A less-than-astute viewer could easily (and accurately) guess how this debacle ends up, but Sierra Burgess at least provides an interesting journey to a familiar destination.

What’s refreshing about Sierra Burgess is that it realizes, as so few teen-oriented movies of late do, that even if you’re telling a familiar story you don’t necessarily have to beat everyone over the head with how clever you are. The film wisely avoids what certainly must have been many temptations to drown itself in self-awareness, simply letting its story unfold. No one likely needs any other reminders of how great teen movies were in the ‘80s, and even though ‘80s teen movie icons Lea Thompson and Alan “Cameron Frye” Ruck make an appearance as Sierra’s parents, Sierra Burgess, much like Sierra Burgess, is content to just be itself.

To that point, Purser’s Sierra is not your typical atypical TV-and-movie teen. She’s keenly aware but accepting of her place in the vicious high school social hierarchy. She knows she’s not Veronica, but she also doesn’t curse the fact that she isn’t. While it would have been easy to make Sierra withdrawn and cynical or give her a negative body image, the fact that the film avoids this common trap makes Sierra all the more interesting. Sierra’s lament isn’t that she doesn’t look like Veronica, it’s the expanding breadth of the Big Lie. Sierra is complex in her simplicity, and Purser’s effortless charm, which we didn’t get to see nearly enough of on Stranger Things, ties it all together and makes Sierra a character that her audience can truly relate to, and even look up to.

You’re not going to get anything surprising out of Sierra Burgess is a Loser. It’s a well-tread story wrapped in a fuzzy blanket of fluff. But when it does have choices to make outside of the key narrative, it consistently makes the right ones. Sierra Burgess is a Loser is the kind of feel-good-inside-and-out movie you wish there were more of. Though we all know every beat of the story, there is so much about Sierra Burgess is a Loser that is unlike any of its contemporaries.  It’s a film that truly lives by its message; never be afraid to just be yourself.

-Mike Stec