“Sierra Burgess Is a Loser” promotes spiteful messages to teenagers

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By Hannah Schmidt ’19

It’s 1984 and a young Molly Ringwald plays a character in the movie “16 Candles” where she analyzes her 16-year-old self in a mirror. She adjusts her short, red curls and assures herself that her body is no different than it was the day before, when she was still 15-years-old.

Thirty-four years later, a young, red-haired, and freckled actress, Shannon Purser, steps into frame as the character Sierra Burgess, and similarly examines her plus-size figure in a bathroom mirror.

Body image is among several overarching themes in director Ian Samuels’ recent Netflix film, “Sierra Burgess Is a Loser,” which premiered on Sept. 7. But unlike the staple romantic comedy, “16 Candles,” “Sierra Burgess is a Loser” is unfortunately among many quasi-inspirational films to fall victim to falsely representing rather sensitive topics.

Sierra Burgess is on the low end of the high school social status scale: she’s not the most popular in school and as a byproduct of her insecurities, she hasn’t been willing to put herself out there and be open to more romantic relationship. Nevertheless, she has impressive grades, strong ambitions for her later life, and a good relationship with her parents.

But when an odd case of mistaken identity leaves her falling for the high school jock, Jamey (Noah Centineo), a rollercoaster of dilemmas surrounds her as Jamey is left believing he’s falling in love with the school’s prototypical ‘mean girl’ and likely Burgess’s worst social enemy, Veronica (Kristine Froseth).

Having Centineo’s portrayal as teenage heartthrob, Peter Kavinsky, in Netflix’s “To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before” and Purser’s underrated yet rather infamous performance as Barb in Netflix’s “Stranger Things” lingering in the back of my mind, I had naturally set high expectations. Crushingly, excellent acting from both leads didn’t get close of trumping the concept, which fell flat.

The worst part about the film is that there isn’t much of a resolution for Burgess. From kissing Jamey without his consent to publicly sabotaging Veronica’s relationship to pretending to be deaf in front of Jamey’s actually-deaf brother, Burgess’s actions are near-unforgivable.

While she justifies these actions via her insecurities, even by the time the credits roll, the character hasn’t necessarily gained any new advice or learned any life lesson.

This loss of plot development led to two huge issues; one, Burgess was advertised as the victim and as a character who can use her lack of self-acceptance as an excuse for horrible actions, and two, she still got the fairytale ending she wanted in the first place, which was being with the boy of her dreams and having the popular girl as her best friend.

I wish I could have enjoyed a film that strayed away from the standard coming-of-age rom-com. It’s very clear plus-size women are still largely underrepresented in Hollywood, and when we do see these actors appear with leading roles, they’re sadly also misrepresented to better fit the stereotype that being plus-size isn’t desirable.