Sierra Burgess is a Loser (and a Terrible Character)

Directed by Ian Samuels and written by Lindsey Beer, Sierra Burgess Is a Loser was released on Netflix earlier this fall. Unfortunately, the film did not live up to its grand hype following the fame wave of Noah Centineo, a star of Netflix’s previous rom-com hit, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. Sierra Burgess advertised a fresh and body-positive theme of acceptance, led by Stranger Things’ fan-favorite Shannon Purser. It delivered however a disappointing and cringe inducing plot line with a main lead that was incredibly difficult to sympathize with.

One of the biggest issues with this film comes from the main conflict of catfishing. In a society where this has become more and more prevalent, it is rare that we feel bad for the catfish, rather we understandably sympathize with the “catfishee”. Just watch any of MTV’s series Catfish, where the tension in each episode is built to the reveal of the Catfish, who is more often than not, an absolutely terrible person. When the audience is able to sympathize with the catfish, it’s disappointing; we want a scapegoat, an absolute villain. We know that the catfish toys with the emotions, manipulates, and lies to their victim, all of which Sierra Burgess did. When catfishing has already developed such a bad reputation, trying to play Sierra off as a catfish with an understandable purpose is near impossible.

The characterization of Jamie, played by Centineo, as such a good guy, almost to the point of being boring, just increases our sympathy to him and not to Sierra. We watch as this poor boy gets completely manipulated by her as she continuously refuses to fess up. Jamie deserves none of this manipulation, and Sierra’s excuse of poor self-esteem just isn’t good enough. The most problematic scene, which Samuels and Beer probably assumed would be their most romantic, occurred when Sierra and her frenemy Veronica switch places right before he goes into kiss Veronica, making him unknowingly kiss Sierra instead. This is cringey, problematic, most likely some form sexual assault with this non-consensual kissing.

Another problem with Sierra’s characterization can be seen in her relationship with mean girl Veronica. Although at first Veronica is portrayed as the antagonist, she quickly develops a sympathetic backstory, becomes kind to Sierra, and is willing to participate in Sierra’s schemes to keep her lie going. Her development as a character is complete, while Sierra’s is weirdly stagnant and lacking. Once Sierra reveals to the whole school Veronica’s embarrassing break up with her boyfriend as a form of delusional revenge, Veronica again becomes the sympathetic character and Sierra the villain.

The film finally comes to an end as Sierra writes the sunflower song and sends it to all of the people she has wronged. However, the song is just about the troubles she has had with bullying, not fitting in, and accepting her appearance. It is not a formal apology. But because she’s the main character, everyone forgives her and her practically unforgivable deeds. Sierra is a bad person. Samuels and Beer lost a great opportunity to make a likeable character with an unconventionally unattractive appearance. This film had so much potential, but just failed in so many areas. Sierra doesn’t deserve to be forgiven. Sierra Burgess isn’t a loser, she’s just a bad person.