A new teen movie premiered to Netflix with a 1980’s vibe called Sierra Burgess Is A Loser, with Shannon Purser playing the title character. Kristine Froseth plays the supposed antagonist Veronica, and Noah Centineo, who is the love interest, Jamey. (Also, Noah was Peter in the Netflix teen film, To All The Boys I Ever Loved Before.) Adding to the 80’s vibe are Sierra’s parents, played by beloved Alan Ruck and Lea Thompson. Sounds like the perfect recipe for the perfect Netflix teen film right after the wonderful To All The Boys I Ever Loved Before, right? Well, what if we were to tell you that the movie didn’t have a protagonist, whatsoever? Shoutout to YouTuber, Julia Cudney for the inspiration for this blog. Please check out her video, Sierra Burgess Is The Villan after reading this. The video is excellent.
Like so many other films we’ve seen recently, where we find ourselves gritting our teeth because they were SO CLOSE to getting it right, Sierra Burgess has so many wonderful things in place. But set-up only gets you halfway there; what you do with the pieces will make or break you.
Take Sierra’s character. She’s very non-Hollywood, which is something we need more of. She’s smart, snarky, and quite confident. Until she isn’t. She sets herself up into this Cyrano de Bergerac storyline that she should frankly have been wise enough to avoid, much less create. It’s almost like the character switched drafts on us once the plot started rolling. What follows is a series of near-discoveries, lies, and a family-friendly version of sexual assault, all of which could (and realistically should) have been avoided.
Which begs the question, who are we rooting for? Sierra and Verionca are both mean girls, just in different ways and we never get to know Noah very well. When Sierra (spoiler alert) embarrasses Veronica in front of the whole school, we’re supposed to be on Veronica’s side-and rightfully so, but that only lasts for a few minutes. Then we lapse onto a scene where Sierra barges home and cries to her parents about how she’s not as pretty or as thin as the other girls and how no one knows what it’s like being her and just like that, we’re supposed to feel sorry for her again. To be fair, Shannon delivers the lines flawlessly and the lines need to be in there, but why did Sierra need to embarrass Verionca first? Sure, she felt betrayed by her, but couldn’t she have said that monologue to Veronica rather than embarrassing her over a misunderstanding and avoiding that whole mess? That way, Veronica, as well as the audience, could have still empathized with her and the whole unneeded stunt Sierra pulled on Verionca could have been avoided….and it still would have been a good movie!
Look, characters do dumb things. Most movies wouldn’t exist without this happening. But there are a few unsung rules that this particular movie doesn’t seem to be aware of. Your protagonist, or POV character, gets much more scrutiny than the supporting players. It’s why the side characters tend to steal scenes; they get to be outrageous and occasionally soft felons and still be loveable, as long as things work out for the star. But the protagonist has to play by the rules or face consequences; Sierra does neither.
It’s healthy for a protagonist to convey flaws because it makes them relatable, and it provides a context for why they make poor choices. Sierra is flawed, but those flaws don’t show up until she’s potentially doing some real emotional damage. As such, her choices really seem to come less from a place of real character revelation and more from the writers not bothering to justify forcing this plot line. And it doesn’t help that Sierra never seems conflicted about her choices.
We were much more interested in Sierra’s growing friendship with Veronica than her relationship with Jamey. It’s fine that Sierra got a boyfriend, but we would rather have seen the romance of friendship be the main plot of this movie and the “regular” relationship romance be a subplot. It’s nice seeing two people of the same gender (regardless of what gender they are) form an unbreakable bond and build each other up. That sadly was missing from this movie and would have made it all the more beautiful.
So, ultimately, this movie doesn’t give you anyone to root for except for a slightly better script and that’s why there’s not a protagonist in this movie.
Although we weren’t thrilled with what we saw, we wouldn’t say, “Stay far away!” We say, try it out with low expectations if you want to see it. The movie is interesting, has great acting, and is good for filling time. Yeah, not the best way to end the review, but it sure beats the mess that was The Kissing Booth! Oh boy…………..
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