Following on from the delight and success of recent Netflix original, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, I suspect my excitement for the release of Sierra Burgess is a Loser was shared by many. Albeit to different degrees, both provide female protagonists that have previously been underrepresented in film. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before gave us the shy, yet immensely charming fashionista, ‘Lara Jean’, with actress Lana Condor providing a strong protagonist of Asian heritage. In Sierra Burgess, we see Shannon Purser as an overweight adolescent, with red curly hair, who appears to wear nothing other than jumpers. She offers a contrast to the typical “attractive” and thin stereotype we often come across in this film genre, and, being a chubby redhead myself, I was excited to see what perspective this film could offer.
But where To All the Boys provided a thoroughly entertaining and light-hearted script, as well as proving how easy representation can be, I must admit Sierra Burgess left me quite disappointed. I cannot help but feel the message the film is meant to convey is both confusing and a bit ridiculous as well as badly executed. The plot follows ‘Sierra’, initially an intelligent teen who gives little regard to how she looks, and indeed looks in the mirror in the opening scene to inform herself she is a ‘magnificent beast’. Giving off a very much overdone John Green vibe, Sierra’s relationship with her dad seems to revolve around him quoting books at her.
the two gradually form a strange friendship over their “catfishing” of Jamey
One evening Sierra receives a random text from an attractive footballer from another school, ‘Jamey’, and begins texting him regularly. As it is revealed Jamey thinks Sierra is ‘Veronica’, a gorgeous and mean-spirited cheerleader, Sierra seeks Veronica’s help to continue her conversations with Jamey. She believes if Jamey knows what she looks like he will no longer be interested, so allows him to continue to believe he is talking to Veronica. In exchange, Sierra helps Veronica with her school work (as obviously you have to be either stereotypically attractive or intelligent, pick a side), and the two gradually form a strange friendship over their “catfishing” of Jamey. This eventually goes to the extent of Sierra using Veronica to go on a date with Jamey as she sits behind. On the date Veronica even asks Jamey to close his eyes, so the real Sierra can come out from her hiding place and kiss him.
While the plot up to this point is morally questionable, as well as carrying some consent issues, the real issues begin towards the end. On the day where Jamey comes to Sierra and Veronica’s school to play football, he sees Veronica, and goes to kiss her. Sierra sees this interaction before Veronica can stop Jamey, and in a devastated rage, posts a humiliating interaction Veronica has had with her ex to her Instagram. This is played on the big screen in front of the entire school, humiliating Veronica further. Sierra rushes to the football field to reveal her true identity, along with Veronica, to Jamey, who becomes confused and hurt and tells them both to leave him alone. Sierra storms home in tears, before remarking to her parents that she is angry they caused her to look like this, and that they have no idea of her struggles.
the complete devolution of Sierra to become resentful and self-pitying is incredibly frustrating
The whole message of this film apparently being that “looks don’t matter” is entirely lost at this point. Not only do we see a girl who seemed initially comfortable and relatively confident lose all her self-esteem because she believes a boy won’t like her, but it is this loss of self-esteem that leads her to spite a friend prettier than herself. It was detrimental of Sierra to continue to use Veronica in the first place if she didn’t want them to be compared on their looks, however the complete devolution of Sierra to become resentful and self-pitying is incredibly frustrating. This is not to mention the fact that this message is somewhat condoned, as following a good word from Veronica, Jamey gives Sierra a chance and takes her to home-coming. Perhaps the movie was in fact a message of what not to do, and that you should be yourself from the beginning – I’m still trying to figure it out myself. But the journey reveals Sierra to be a selfish and bitter person, who only becomes so out of the pressure she feels to impress a boy who she is yet to interact with in real life, and yet considers of higher value than her friend.
It would have been far more refreshing to almost see Sierra’s character arc in reverse – initially she is bitter and hateful due to her looks, feeling the need to live up to societies expectations, before she learns to become comfortable with herself, with the ending being her telling the mirror she is a ‘magnificent beast.’ Or better still, a conventional love story, where we see a confident yet stereotypically “unattractive” person falls in love in a simple manner, without the use of catfish or bringing self-esteem into the picture. The film proves that the film industry is still struggling with the concept that sometimes, unattractive people are confident, and in relationships, and not because they tricked someone into it.