‘Sierra Burgess Is a Loser’ Is a Celebration of Friendship Disguised as a Rom-Com
“Cyrano de Bergerac,” Edmond Rostand’s beloved 1897 play about unrequited love, gets a modern update, thanks to Netflix, in the teen rom-com “Sierra Burgess Is a Loser.” This gender-swapped retelling of the French play, which is set in the heartbreak headquarters that is high school, stars “Stranger Things” actress Shannon Purser as the titular character, an intellectual marching band member suffering from low self-esteem. While the film hardly breaks any new ground, director Ian Samuels and screenwriter Lindsey Beer do an adequate job of exploring not only the agony and ecstasy of teen romance, but also the importance of female friendship and the unique challenges facing Generation Z.
Sierra, like most leads in this type of film, may not be the most conventionally beautiful girl in her high school, but she’s certainly one of the brightests, with her great grades and her ability to speak multiple languages. However, in today’s competitive college admissions system, her getting into her first choice school, Stanford, isn’t going to be the slam dunk one would think it would be. “Have you ever started a social media movement?” Asks her guidance counselor (Mary Pat Gleason) in complete earnest. Making Sierra’s life even more stressful is the thorn in her side that is Veronica (Kristine Froseth), a popular cheerleader who boasts a whopping 20 thousand followers on Instagram. Initially a one-note baddie, Veronica derives pleasure by making cheap shots at Sierra, putting down her looks and even make transphobic cracks. However, a chance encounter between Veronica and Jamey, (Noah Centineo), the dreamboat quarterback from a rival school, at a local diner changes the lives of both young women.
In what is meant to be a cruel joke, Veronica gives the smitten Jamey Sierra’s number. He texts Sierra that night, thinking she’s Veronica, and the two quickly strike up a digital romance. The story departs from “Cyrano” in that Veronica has no interest in Jamey; instead, she pines for her ex, Spence (Will Peltz), a college guy who dumped her for not being smart enough. The double-edged sword that is the internet causes conflict here, as Sierra finds herself navigating technologies that Cyrano couldn’t have possibly dreamt of, such as video chatting. Eventually, she and Veronica are forced to form an alliance. In return for her help with moving forward her romance, Sierra must help Veronica beef up her intellect in order to win back Spence.
While Sierra develops genuine feelings for the dull but likeable enough Jamey, the real love story here is between her and Veronica. As the two young women get to know each, they find common ground and eventually even encourage and uplift each other. At one point, it seems as though Sierra’s friendship with Veronica might be irreversibly damaged (in part thanks to technology, of course), and the possibility is more devastating and emotionally-impactful than the thought of her losing Jamey.
While Purser and Froseth certainly steal the show, the supporting cast is also worth mentioning. R.J. Cyler, a charismatic actor who is long overdue for his own film, shines as Sierra’s best friend and voice of reason, Dan. Two actors who had their big breaks in teen films, Lea Thompson and Alan Ruck, play Sierra’s parents, while “This Is Us” breakout star Chrissy Metz shows a different side of herself as Veronica’s overbearing mother.
“Sierra Burgess Is a Loser” premieres Sept. 7 on Netflix.