After the brilliance of two new romantic comedies on Netflix, "To All the Boys I've Loved Before" and "Set it Up", I was understandably excited about watching the much hyped (HI NOAH CENTINEO) "Sierra Burgess" film.
However when the credits finally rolled I was left feeling not that she was a loser, but that Sierra Burgess is Problematic...
A modern retelling of a frankly problematic story ("Cyrano de Bergerac" by Edmond Rostand) seemed to be an odd move, but the cast was fresh and exciting enough that I was willing to put my doubts aside and go in with an open mind. However the problems with the original story become all the more twisted and squicky in this modern, gender flipped version.
When we are first introduced to Sierra she seems smart, funny, has a great relationship with both her parents and best friend Dan (frankly some of the best comedy comes from him) and has her little niche of the world carved out thank you very much.
But then a sexy boy starts texting her. The sexy boy that we're meant to believe is too ugly and too much of a loser for popular girl Veronica to bother with, which is why Veronica gives aforementioned guy of sexynotsexyness!Jamey Sierra's number instead - with me so far?
And suddenly all of the character built up for Sierra goes poof. She's suddenly shallow and obsessed with looks and has gone completely gooey for sexynotsexy!Jamey and it is so insanely cringey that I developed eye strain from rolling them so hard.
Sierra realises that sexynotsexy!Jamey does not know who she is and thinks she's Veronica, and instead of embracing her smart, funny self and telling him he's made a mistake, she immediately decides that pretending to be Veronica is the best idea ever. Because catfishing someone is the way to start all great love stories...
I will admit that the breathless anticipation and electric charge of messaging someone you like is captured beautifully, but underpinning all of that is the horrible messedupness of this entire situation, so it's hard to just sit back and enjoy this blossoming teen love story. It's also incredibly frustrating because instead of doing the latest craze of popping text messages out onto the screen so you can actually see what the character's are writing to each other, this film decides to just leave them on the phone screens so quite often I had no idea what was being said. I know my eyesight isn't great, but surely a film that involves a lot of texting should have put a little more thought into the audience being able to read said texts?...
Then Sierra realises that the only way to keep up this ruse (WHY SIERRA, WHY?!) is to persuade Veronica to get in on this. Which she does, because Veronica is frankly too good for this movie, and once she drops the mean girl act becomes one of my favourite characters.
My favourite part of this whole train-wreck was the relationship between Sierra and Veronica, and frankly I would be a lot happier if they'd just ignored any romance by the end and focussed on this strong and powerful friendship that develops between the most unlikely of girls. It's wonderful to watch, truly, and it's the only thing that really salvages this movie. (That and shirtless Noah Centineo, because I am not made of stone.)
Thus begins a truly, truly awful plan. Which involves Sierra messaging Veronica answers to sexynotsexy!Jamey's questions whilst Veronica and Jamey are out on a date WHICH MAKES NO SENSE AND IS SO UNSUBTLY DONE HOW DOES HE NOT NOTICE. He then goes in for a kiss with Veronica (although why he's not running for the hills by now is a question for the ages) only she insists he closes his eyes and instead swaps out with Sierra so she can have her first kiss with him.
The consent issues alone with this are enough to make me get shouty. (If you can't see the issues with it, then gender swap that situation around and it becomes blindingly obvious how problematic it is.) And they thought this was a good, sweet, romantic idea for a film?...
Then we have a truly horrifically done scene where Sierra pretends to be deaf so she can't speak with sexynotsexy!Jamey so he won't recognise her voice, only the punchline here is meant to be that Jamey's little brother is actually deaf so he does in fact understand sign language.
Just going to give that one a minute to sink in.
Who signed off on this film and didn't think that might not be the best idea?...
Particularly once you add in the transphobic and homophobic comments that are thrown in as punchlines and miss the mark so badly that it boggles the mind.
It's a script that just is so tonally deaf to everything that has been going on around it in the world, and yet still thinks it's so funny and clever. It's not, really it's not.
Then we get to the punchline, I mean climax, of the film. Sierra sees Veronica kissing Jamey. Gasp.
Let's unpack that one for a minute.
First of all, Veronica has (admittedly agreed to it, but still) been trapped into this fake relationship with a guy that she is now admitting is a little bit sexier than first given credit for, but she's pretending to be the Veronica that Sierra has been. Her consent really is questionable at this point. Her being kissed by Jamey to keep up the charade for Sierra is squicky, sure, but she is trying to be a good friend here, and she stops the kiss almost as soon as it starts. Sierra going off on one about this when this entire situation is her fault, makes me pull this face.
Why does she do this? Oh, because Veronica is a mean girl who deserves it.
I don't really have any words to actually express my feelings about this. We're meant to empathise with Sierra, hell we're meant to like Sierra and root for her throughout the film, but mostly I just want to throw things at her and shout at her for being a monumental jerk.
It all comes out, Jamey discovers what's been going on, excrement hits fans, and Sierra is left crying alone in her room. I think we're meant to feel sorry for her at this point, but frankly I think Veronica and Jamey deserve more sympathy and their own upset piano playing montage.
Sierra then experiences mild shunning from Veronica, Jamey, and best friend Dan. She writes a song about how hard it is not being conventionally beautiful. She sends said song to Veronica, she
Then Veronica goes to Jamey and plays him Sierra's sad song (admittedly it is a very nice song, but I'm still grumpy right now) because apparently a sad song about why life is so tough for Sierra, and how much she loves Jamey is enough to make Veronica forgive Sierra for the awful things she did. And suddenly Jamey is all OH I DO LIKE YOU EVEN THOUGH YOU ARE LITERALLY THE WORST AND LIED ALL THE LOTS LET'S GO TO HOMECOMING.
And Veronica and Sierra forgive through the magical form of not communicating and just hugging, THE END.
I mean, really, there is so much wrong with that. We're shown that a smart, intelligent, funny girl goes absolutely googly over this sexynotsexy! guy, loses all rational thought, lies to him, manipulates him and her new found friend, turns into an irrational crazed person, takes away his consent over their first kiss, publicly slut shames her friend, and then IT'S ALL OK AND SHE GETS THE GUY ANYWAY WITH NO REPERCUSSIONS.
WHAT WAS THIS FILM ATTEMPTING TO SHOW US?! CATFISHING AND LYING HELPS YOU GET THE GUY YOU LOVE?!
So, uh, yeah. Feelings, lots of them. Not good feelings. Frankly I want a do-over which just focuses on the glorious friendship between Veronica and Sierra. That's all I want, just that.
Do I regret watching this film? Yes. Would I recommend it? Well, there are elements that were enjoyable, and I think if you're aware of how problematic it is going in then you're less likely to combust from rage, but this film is a really terrifying look at how not self aware some portions of the film making industry are. Seriously guys, go take a long hard look in the mirror, because if this is what passes for romance and how to get that sexynotsexy! guy of your dreams, we have got a lot of problems...