Netflix Movie Review: Sierra Burgess is a Loser (2018)

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As harrowing as it is – or more accurately was – to flirt with or ask someone out in person or in a phone call, at least we had the advantage of visual and audible cues of smiles, eye contact, and laughter (or the lack thereof) to encourage or discourage us in the process.

Today, with so much communication occurring via text or direct messaging, there aren't exactly any signs upon which you can gauge another person's reaction, nor are there – in the age of catfishing – any guarantees that the person with whom we think we're conversing is the real McCoy.

But even if we're gutsy enough to go off instinct, there's nothing scarier than the sight of those three dots appearing and vanishing as someone types and/or deletes their response to our message as well as the jump in our heart rate every time we hear the incoming ding informing us that a new text has arrived.

An unwitting catfisher, after Jamey (Noah Centineo), a handsome football player texts brainy marching band member Sierra's (Shannon Purser) phone by mistake and the two hit it off, she finds herself experiencing those exact same nervous butterflies which only intensify after she discovers that the girl with whom he thinks he's been chatting is the one that makes Sierra's life miserable on a daily basis.

Having pulled down the contact information half of one of Sierra's tutoring fliers, it seems that – worried that Jamey's “loser” friends mean he's a loser too – when the West Pasadena High School quarterback crosses a diner to speak to her, East Pasadena High School's pretty, popular cheerleader and Queen Bee, Veronica (Kristine Froseth) gives him Sierra's number in place of her own.

Figuring out a way to keep her text relationship with Jamey going before she'll inevitably have to tell him the truth (or he finds out via FaceTime) after Veronica's college freshman boyfriend decides she isn't smart enough to be with him anymore, Sierra offers to tutor Veronica in exchange for her assistance with Jamey.

More than just a new variation on the classic play Cyrano de Bergerac, which has been adapted as a big screen romance multiple times before including in Roxanne and The Truth About Cats and Dogs, Sierra screenwriter Lindsey Beer and first time feature filmmaker Ian Samuels cull from a classic decade for teen romcoms as well via the 1980s.

Built from, as the director describes in the Netflix production notes, the classic YA novel archetypes of "the cheerleader, the football player and the band nerd," Samuels' enthusiasm for the era is infectious. Wanting "the movie to lean into that, to feel like a YA fantasy, like a Beverly Cleary book cover, but with a more contemporary point of view," he infuses Sierra Burgess is a Loser with a sincerity befitting of John Hughes.

And while the relationship between Sierra and Veronica goes from the traditional antagonism of the clique based high school hierarchy to a Pygmalion, Born Yesterday, or My Fair Lady arrangement where Sierra gets to play Henry Higgins to Veronica's Eliza, the film manages to push past not only those boundaries but those of Cyrano simultaneously.

Perhaps taking a cue from The Truth About Cats and Dogs, Beer opts to make the evolving friendship between the two girls – who thought they had nothing in common only to find common ground – as important, if not more so than the film's love story, which is moreover what Samuels intended, going as far as to call Sierra and Jamey's romance "almost the B plot for me."

Likewise the film's message of understanding as well as the earnest, relatable portrayal of Sierra by Stranger Things breakout star Shannon Purser as a modern day spin on Molly Ringwald in Sixteen Candles makes the release of the film – timed to coincide with the traditional start of a new school year – even timelier.

Of course, the sheer likability of its cast including the internet's new collective boyfriend Noah Centineo aka To All the Boys I've Loved Before's Peter Kavinsky doesn't hurt. Additionally, look for sharp turns from Froseth who – like Lea Thompson in Some Kind of Wonderful – transcends what could've easily been a one dimensional role to make Veronica someone we care about too, as well as Me and Earl and the Dying Girl's delightful RJ Cyler as Dan, Sierra's contemporary answer to Pretty in Pink's Duckie who ensures that above all we're thoroughly entertained.

Celebrating the era that gave us those Hughes penned hits, the film casts not only the ageless, enchanting Thompson but also the always charming Ferris Bueller's Day Off sidekick Alan Ruck to play Sierra's overachieving parents.

Shot in just twenty days to a limited budget, Samuels admits that some of Beer's subplots were dropped and indeed – similar to Jon Cryer's Duckie in Pretty in Pink – there's something incomplete with the arc of Dan's character in particular.

Yet even though it's less polished than To All the Boys, Sierra's heart is just as big as Boys heroine Lara Jean (Lana Condor) as is her plight to navigate high school, discover more about who she is and what's important to her as well as see if those butterflies on the screen translate to real life in her love life equally relatable to viewers.

And just like Boys, it's safe to say that Sierra Burgess will quickly amass a legion of well-deserved fans (not to mention new butterfly inducing Noah Centineo GIFs for you to text).

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