WARNING: contains spoilers, sorry!!
I’m going to be honest with you, I watched Sierra Burgess is a Loser (2018) purely to see my one true love, Noah Centineo. His performance in To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (2018) truly moved me, and so I counted the days until I could see his brooding, yet loveable smile again in SBIAL. My reasons for watching this young adult/coming of age movie were as follows: I wanted to finish the movie feeling like I had just fallen in love with Noah Centineo all over again. And, unfortunately, I was let down. Hard.
Let me provide you a quick rundown of the plot to clear up some of the many confusing aspects of the movie. First, Jamey (Noah Centineo) gets the uber-popular girl’s number, Veronica (Kristine Froseth). It turns out that he unknowingly ends up texting Sierra Burgess (Shannon Purser) instead, due to a cruel joke played on him by Veronica. Sierra and Jamey continue to talk and begin to develop feelings for each other based on their phone interactions. In an attempt to take their relationship from social media to real life, Sierra befriends her former tormentor Veronica, and they go through many hoops to develop Sierra’s fake relationship with Jamey.
My first major issue is that the plot of SBIAL is very predictable—not to say that other rom-coms aren’t. It almost always goes like this: invisible girl falls in love with hot jock, girl and boy flirt, date, and chase each other. The couple gets into some trouble and their relationship falls apart, but, by the end, girl and boy reunite (often at a football field, ironically), and end up together. A few exceptions to this “rule” include Love, Simon (2018) (substitute girl and boy for boy and boy) and The Fault in Our Stars (2014) (spoiler alert: girl and boy do not end up with each other).
One of the reasons that the movie was such a let-down is because SBIAL truly does have all the makings of a fun and fresh take on YA movies. First, the main protagonist is not your typical blonde, supermodel-built girl. It was refreshing to see Shannon Purser embrace her role as a not-so-stereotypical YA female lead. To the movie’s credit, it was nice to finally be able to compare myself to someone who represents a more real image of many women, not just the type social media usually portrays. However, all of the progress that Sierra Burgess’ character makes is lost on her terrible—yet somehow devoid of consequences—actions during the movie. Sierra, motivated by anger stemming from watching Veronica kiss Jamey, leaks a picture of Veronica kissing another boy to the whole school. She faces no consequences for her cyberbullying and instead is rewarded by landing Jamey and receiving an apology from Veronica. I literally had to rewatch this part of the movie because I was so utterly confused as to how Sierra faced no backlash for this awful gesture. While Sierra’s character hopefully inspires young girls to love themselves inside and out, she sets a bad precedent for cyberbullying.
Another of the one movie’s very controversial moments is when Sierra kisses Jamey without his consent. In the scene, Jamey is set up to kiss Veronica, but when he closes his eyes, Veronica and Sierra quickly switch spots and Jamey ends up unknowingly kissing Sierra. Many overlook this, but it has received a lot of heat due to the lack of consent; Sierra never asked Jamey if it was okay for her to kiss him and instead just did it without his approval or knowledge. Especially with the onset of movements like #MeToo, it seems odd that Netflix felt comfortable showing a kiss without consent. Personally, I felt very awkward watching the scene; I wanted to reach out and tap Jamey’s shoulder and tell him to open his eyes. It’s possible this scene’s controversial nature may have been overlooked by Netflix because of the reversal of gender roles. Instead of a girl not giving consent, it was a boy. Often times sexual assault is talked about through the female lens and thus men’s experiences can get discounted.
My final ax to grind has to do with Noah Centineo’s character. While Peter Kavinsky in To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before made Centineo seem down to earth, in Sierra Burgess, Jamey is nothing but a self-absorbed jock. It is clear that he initially fell for Veronica because of her looks. This just perpetuates the societal norm that the “pretty girl” always gets the guy. The movie tries to make up for this by ending the film with Sierra and Jamey getting together, but it is unavoidable that negative stereotypes about young love are still perpetuated throughout the movie. My other problem with Jamey is that he uses his body to attract Veronica, by way of a shirtless selfie. What kind of message is this for teenage boys? Now I’m not a teenage guy, but I’m sure they experience the same insecurities that teenage girls do. Jamey’s character is reinforcing the idea that guys also have to look a certain way to get the girl.
I do appreciate the fact that Centineo and Purser have been very open about the movies’ problems while on their press circuit. They have both addressed Sierra’s blatant cyberbullying and made it clear that they do not condone her actions. It is also great that Purser has taken the opportunity to act as a role model for young girls struggling with body image problems. She has made it clear that she believes young girls should love themselves first and foremost.
While I have obvious issues with the message of SBIAL, the movie still inevitably leaves me with a rekindled belief in young love. The characters definitely have their own problems, but after watching SBIAL at 3 am in my dorm, it is impossible not to feel like I could wake up and bump into the love of my life in the hallway. Unfortunately, I’m probably not gonna find love in the maze-like hallways of ICC, but movies like Sierra Burgess is a Loser are meant to bring some feel-good happiness into people’s lives, and the movie does just that.