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Sierra Burgess is a loser, because she has eyes only for herself. | Courtesy Wikipedia

I’m always down for a body-pos­i­tivity movie. When Friday night rolls around, and I cozy up in socks and sweats to munch popcorn and chill, I don’t want an art film. I don’t want a movie to make me think too hard or feel obliged to appre­ciate the perfect com­bi­nation of reality and pain. I want a mildly funny script and a dependably heart-warming plot. So when I came across Netflix’s newest high school Rom-Com, “Sierra Burgess Is a Loser,” it screamed Friday night per­fection. Fat chick gets the guy with her sparkling wit and crazy-con­fi­dence? Bring it on. You go girl.

The first quarter of the film seems to be the typical teenage drama. When the mean, pretty girl, Veronica, gives the hot quar­terback, Jamey, Sierra’s phone number as a prank, Sierra finds herself in a text-rela­tionship with a boy who thinks she looks like the hottest girl at school. Afraid to lose McHandsome’s interest, Sierra gets Veronica to exchange pic­tures and Facetime calls for tutoring lessons, thereby keeping up the ruse that Jamey is texting both the mind of a genius and the face of an angel. Sierra gets to keep up appear­ances for her love interest, while Veronica gets to impress the college boys she so des­per­ately wants to please. As Sierra and Veronica work together and learn more about one another’s back­grounds, their ani­mosity melts away. Sierra sees Veronica’s more human­izing sides and Veronica learns to appre­ciate Sierra’s intel­li­gence and courage. Hope for true, John Hughes-worthy friendship blossoms in the viewer’s heart. 

Here is where my Breakfast Club visions of char­acter growth and broken status-quo rela­tion­ships rose to heights unat­tainable. Sierra begins to see into Veronica’s world and dis­covers human­izing pain. Per­fectly beau­tiful Veronica lives in squalor in the bad part of town with a bitter mom and two out-of-control little sisters. With no male figure in the home, Veronica des­per­ately looks for security and identity in rela­tion­ships with older boys at college parties. Sierra goes to one such party with her and gets an eye-full of the kinds of pres­sures Veronica faces. Sierra hears Veronica’s ex-boyfriend tell his pal about his plan to ver­bally abuse Veronica so she will feel demor­alized and eager to prove herself sex­ually. 

Now I imagined this episode would end with the con­fident Sierra taking Veronica home and telling her encour­aging things about her real value — Sierra, after all, comes from a loving family who encourage her to think of herself as more than an outward appearance. Instead, Sierra gets held upside down drinking beer from a keg straw, and Veronica ends up in the parking lot with her mean ex-boyfriend, getting bor­derline assaulted.

At this point in the film, we have tapped into a whole new bundle of issues. What once was a body-pos­i­tivity movie has moved into the dark and choppy waters of abuse. The movie gets too real and then opts out of saying some­thing deep. Where the film opened the door for some real char­acter growth and healing, it rein­tro­duces the boyfriend drama and we spend the rest of the film propping up Sierra’s body-con­sciousness. 

At the cli­mactic moment of the film, Sierra gets jealous about Veronica’s obvious attraction to Jamey. In a cruel act of jealousy, Sierra broad­casts pic­tures of Veronica slutting it up with her college boyfriend — pic­tures Veronica had told Sierra about in a moment of vul­ner­a­bility and trust. Veronica is hor­rified that some­thing so demor­al­izing and abusive would be pub­li­cized and that the new friend she con­fided in would turn on her so cruelly. It’s the typical set up: geek gets back at cool kid, but realizes that revenge is really not that sweet once you know your enemy’s human side. 

At this point, my popcorn is long gone, but I keep watching because there’s still the chance that Sierra is going to apol­ogize and make things right. 

Wrong. 

Sierra has just com­pletely failed as a friend. Here is where we need pen­i­tence, char­acter growth, and heart-warming for­giveness. We need Sierra to get over the aes­thetic dif­fer­ences between herself and Veronica, rec­og­nizing their mutual need for ten­derness as well as her greater ability to offer it as she comes from a healthy home. If the movie had suc­ceeded in this, it would have offered a sim­plistic message of the value of friendship. But the film failed to deliver even true friendship, adhering instead to the “love yourself” message of every modern pop song ever. 

After ruining Veronica’s public image, Sierra goes home crying and writes a song out of the deep cre­ative well of self-pity inside herself. The refrain of the song goes: 

Rose girls in glass vases

Perfect bodies, perfect faces

They all belong in mag­a­zines

 Those girls the boys are chasing

Winning all the games they’re playing

They’re always in a dif­ferent league

 Stretching toward the sky like I don’t care

Wishing you could see me standing there

 But I’m a sun­flower, a little funny

If I were a rose, maybe you’d want me.

Sierra’s artistic break­through just proves to us that she hasn’t made any progress at all. She’s as self-absorbed as ever. Instead of writing the “I’m sorry I ruined your life because I’m so selfish” song, Sierra sends Veronica this trash, and Veronica accepts it like it’s a perfect excuse and for­gives her. 

While the film pushes the “love yourself” line, we end up with a char­acter who uses her weight as a good excuse to be a hor­rible friend without suf­fering con­se­quences. 

By the end of the song, I wanted to shriek: Who cares what variety of flower you are if you can’t see the needs of the people around you? We are sup­posed to cel­e­brate Sierra in all her chunky glory, but how am I sup­posed to feel when Sierra Burgess, who is actually not as unat­tractive as she makes herself out to be, com­pletely lacks the self-awareness to have com­passion on her suf­fering friend? How am I sup­posed to empathize with a pro­tag­onist who is too fixated on aes­thetics to reach out to her friend suf­fering abuse and neglect? I no longer feel val­i­dated and affirmed by Sierra’s body pos­i­tivity. I now feel kind of icky that I am sup­posed to be in her corner when she is such a ter­rible friend. 

Overall, I thought the movie was sad, and based on the happy music, tearful hugs, and hand-holding, I don’t think that’s what I was sup­posed to take away from the film. 

Sierra Burgess is a loser, and not because she’s even mildly ugly. (She has perfect skin and beau­tiful hair and I don’t really see the problem with her young self except that, like most 18-year-olds, she’s selfish and ungrateful.) Sierra Burgess only has eyes for herself. She uses the pretty chick shame­lessly, and the viewer is expected to pity her, laud her courage, and boost her ego, cheering when she lands McDreamy. 

This movie was not the corn I wanted, but neither was it capable of exe­cuting real-talks it tried to bring up throughout the film.