Directed by: #IanSamuels
Written by: #LindseyBeer
Sierra Burgess Is a Loser is an American teen comedy-drama film that was released by #Netflix in September 2018. This film was directed by Ian Samuels and starred Shannon Purser, Kristine Froseth, RJ Cyler and Noah Centineo.
Sierra Burgess explores the idea that bigger teenage girls who don't satisfy the conventions of beauty are still worthy of being loved. This film drifts into darker themes and attracted controversies as it romanticises questionable character choices, with central plotlines featuring catfishing, cyberbullying, and the use of a deaf character as a prop for an unfunny funny scene. This Netflix teen flick should count its lucky stars that it premiered weeks after the Netflix series Insatiable, a spectacularly glib attempt to tell the same story. Comparisons have between made between the two, with Sierra Burgess coming out on top, a movie that is sincere in its message, even if it was poorly delivered.
The titular high school student is played by Shannon Purser, who manages to harness the sickly-sweet awkwardness that defined Barb in Stranger Things, utilising this character trait to portray a sense of vulnerability in her role as Sierra. Her dialogue is consumed by literary quotes, something that made me want to hide behind my blanket as my face scrunched up with the pain of second-hand embarrassment. Despite Sierra's self-assurance in her academic abilities, she struggles to look at herself in the mirror.
The love interest of our protagonist is sensitive jock type Jamey (Centineo, To All The Boys I Loved Before), whom Sierra catfishes and woos by proxy. Jamey is under the impression that he is texting Veronica, the beautiful yet bitchy cheerleader (an excellent example of originality), portrayed by Kristine Froseth. Sierra texts back, and soon they're talking 24/7, with Jamey still none the wiser that he's texting Sierra. At Jamey's expense, Sierra grows closer to Veronica as they delve deeper into this elaborate lie, forming an unlikely friendship. The film does its best to make the audience feel sympathetic towards Sierra and Veronica but generates a different response with a nuanced atmosphere of queasiness.
The movie doesn't get any better. In one particular scene, Sierra kisses Jamey when he thinks he is kissing Veronica while out on a date with her, which means the kiss is non-consensual and highly manipulative. It doesn't create a favourable impression and could be regarded as damaging, considering the current social climate. Although some may argue this scene could be used as an example to discuss boundaries and consent, there is no discussion within the film for the audience to adopt and develop.
I was excited to learn that Jamey's brother was Deaf, that the film featured scenes of American Sign Language (ASL). I was not as excited to discover that there was a more sinister and ableist motive behind the creation of a Deaf character. At one point, Sierra pretends to be deaf and non-verbal to avoid speaking to Jamey, should he recognise her voice from their phone calls. Jamey attempts to sign to Sierra, introducing her to his brother, a flustered Sierra tries to mimic sign language to him before eventually running away. This scene was painful to watch, and it hit a nerve. I was upset to see a Deaf character exploited and used to prop up a scene that was supposedly meant to be funny. As a major streaming service, Netflix has a responsibility to encourage representation. Jamey's brother was not a genuine representation of the Deaf community but merely an excuse for a punchline. Jamey's brother had no further involvement or character development in the film, which says a lot.
There was a meaningful message about female friendship, but even this minuscule nugget of wholesomeness was completely tainted and ruined by the film's questionable direction and abysmal storytelling. The next Netflix teen flick certainly has their work cut out for them.