Netflix is a force in the current movie landscape, ushering in a wave of new romantic comedies this summer and fall. Its summer hits have included “Set It Up,” featuring Glenn Powell, Zoey Deutsch and Lucy Liu, and the sensational teen romance “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before,” which stars Lana Candor — the first Asian-American female lead in a teen romantic comedy — and the charming Noah Centineo, the internet’s latest heartthrob.
With those successes, “Sierra Burgess is a Loser,” Netflix’s next rom-com venture, has a lot to live up to. The movie stars not only Centineo as its male lead, but also Shannon Purser (Sierra Burgess), of the critically acclaimed “Stranger Things” franchise. Centineo’s character Jamey is a football player who begins texting Sierra after receiving her number from popular mean girl Veronica (played by Kristine Froseth). And that’s where every aspect of the plot — sense, logic, dignity — flies out the window.
As a studio, Netflix appears to be giving romantic comedies a comeback through its streaming service, especially after the near decade-long slump theaters have received in both ratings and turn-out for this movie genre. The last rom-com to hit No. 1 at the box office prior to 2018 was “Think Like A Man Too” in 2014. The genre’s dry spell has only recently been broken by the summer smash hit “Crazy Rich Asians,” which has defied expectations in the box office, bringing in over $116 million domestically.
Unlike “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before,” “Sierra Burgess is a Loser” falls short in quality, compared to the films Netflix has previously released despite solid performances from Centineo and Purser. Both actors showcase strong emotion, but the movie falls back on typical rom-com tropes that make their performances exceedingly awkward. While teen movies have a tendency to lean toward the absurd, “Sierra Burgess is a Loser” goes beyond that.
Sierra is portrayed as a sensible girl, the underdog of the film: She has a good head on her shoulders and can smartly quote literary text at her father. Sierra is a generally likeable character, but some of her antics are exaggerated and appear too ridiculous, even as a crazy-in-love teenage protagonist.
Jamey and Sierra’s relationship begins when he received her number without her knowledge, and the two strike up a conversation despite the fact that they’ve never met. During this ordeal, Jamey is under the impression that Sierra is Veronica, and Sierra goes along with it.
Another problematic aspect of the movie is that Sierra pretends to be deaf in a scene so she would not have to speak to Jamey, which would cause her to reveal her voice. Deaf activist Nyle DiMarco and movie critics have criticized the thoughtless message Sierra’s action sends to audiences.
While the movie tries to appeal to the old adage of “being yourself,” the script reduces the plot to something cheesy and borderline frustrating.
Romantic comedies are generally predictable: There is always a happy ending. While Centineo is a likable, attractive actor and Purser is naturally endearing with great acting potential, their characters are hard to connect with. “Sierra Burgess is a Loser” might not have been a show-stopping hit, but Purser has surely solidified herself in the industry as a steady talent.