Published Sep 07, 2018So how are we all feeling about the '90s renaissance? Wazzzzaaap to the reinstatement of crop tops, boy bands, obsession with the U.S. President's sex life, and recently, teen rom-coms.
Netflix especially has tapped into a demand for cute, smart-ish love stories that distract from these mad times — The Kissing Booth, The Set-Up, and now Sierra Burgess is a Loser, featuring established Netflix stars Noah Centineo (dreamy stud of To All the Boys I've Loved Before, another mushy hit) as Jamey, and the titular Sierra is played by the luminously wry Shannon Purser. You know, Barb from Stranger Things.
Sierra is the girl most people didn't get to know until after high school — good-hearted, shy but full of feeling, and satisfied with her inner life. "You're a magnificent beast," she reminds herself in the mirror before her parents wave her off to her image-obsessed high school. The fact that mom and dad are played by teen-movie icons Alan Ruck (Ferris Bueller's Day Off) and Lea Thompson (Some Kind of Wonderful) really enhances the passing-the-torch vibe.
The setup is conventional: gorgeous cheerleader Veronica (newcomer Kristine Froseth) plays a cruel prank in giving Sierra's number to hot jock Jamey; they fall head over heels for each other over the phone, but Sierra lacks the confidence to reveal her true identity. After striking a deal, the girls team up and proceed to catfish the absolute hell out of this guy, to the point where Sierra is feeding Veronica lines through a Bluetooth during a movie date. It's Cyrano de Bergerac for people who don't remember 9/11.
Written by rising screenwriter Lindsey Beer, this is director Ian Samuels first feature. Their combined newness lends a spark, but without an experienced guiding hand, Sierra Burgess sometimes droops in momentum; this allows time to notice how unoriginal the dialogue can be. Samuels does, however, give the lead actors space to feel their way into the characters — Purser's gentleness and Froseth's energy are especially good, and in their scenes together you might forget Centineo altogether.
The central weakness of the film rears its head when the girls trick Jamey into making out with Sierra instead of Veronica. For a film that seems to celebrate the earnestness and progressiveness of Generation Z, its handling of consent is positively retro; the gender-reversed dynamic can't distract from the lack of consequences the two girls face. Time will tell if the audience will give into the charm of this teen romance or ultimately agree with the title's claim.