If you’ve ever grown up as one of those people who’s heard the words “you’d be prettier if…” you know that some things are just true.
Your looks do matter. Your weight is an issue. Whatever part of you that isn’t “normal” will matter to other people and, more importantly, to you. So when I heard about the Netflix original film Sierra Burgess is a Loser, my first thought was, “Oh great, another ‘person discovers their inner beauty’ movie or, even better, goes from an ugly duckling to a swan.”
In other words, I thought I knew the general story and I thought it would follow a predictable and sweet path.
In certain ways it did, but in others — and more important ways — it walked right off the path of predictability and into a sort of coming of age love story I don’t think I’ve ever seen before.
The basics are the basics. Stranger Things‘ Shannon Purser plays Sierra Burgess, a smart, funny, definitely unique girl who gets shit for being neither small enough nor pretty enough to be deemed acceptable by the people in high school who care about that stuff. She has a best friend, Dan (RJ Cyler) who, like her, is more on the smart, nerdy side. They’re both in band. They both care more about getting into a good college than they do being in the right clique and they understand their place within the social structure and are mostly unbothered by it.
Enter mean girl Veronica (Kristine Froseth) who, because she’s a mean girl, winds up connecting Sierra with rival high school quarterback Jamey (Noah Centenio) in an attempt to mess with them both. (Like I said, mean girl).
So, there’s the setup. And, from that setup comes a story that understands that life is complicated, that everyone has a story you don’t know, and that self-confidence is a royal pain in the ass whether you have it or not.
Here’s the thing. I’m not going to tell you more about the story. I’m not going to tell you the twists or how events play out or even say another word about plot. Completely spoiler-free.
Mainly because I want you to watch Sierra Burgess is a Loser when it premieres on Netflix on September 7. So let’s get that clear. This is me giving Sierra Burgess is a Loser a thumbs up, a positive review, a requisite number of stars or whatever version you’d use to rate the film.
But there’s another reason, and it’s this reason, I think Sierra Burgess is a Loser isn’t just good but valuable.
As a woman who grew up in the quirky but cute, too big, too loud, “You’d be so pretty if…” demographic, I’m going to be honest with you. At least, I’m going to tell you the truth as I see it after having been on this planet more than a couple decades.
I’m still that woman. In fact, I’m more “extra” then I was in high school in pretty much every way. I have a husband who adores me and good friends and I’m usually pretty okay with who I am, and still, people still have the ability to hurt me. I still feel people looking at me and judging me, sometimes just for existing and being in the same room as them.
I used to think that would go away some day. If you believe the movies, it does go away. You somehow have this moment of realization that inside beauty is what matters and that you can walk through life deflecting all the mean things people did or said when you were a teen.
But, as many people know, no matter their age, gender, sexuality, or race, it doesn’t go away. You just deal with it. As best as you can. Every day. Every moment.
And while I’m sure Sierra Burgess is a Loser didn’t expect to crystallize a lesson I’ve learned, it did.
Life is going to judge you. People are going to judge you. You are going to judge you. Some days, you handle it all like Wonder Woman deflecting bullets and some days you go grab the ice cream out of the freezer, but you deal with it the best you can because that’s how it is.
What matters and what changes and what affects how you deal with all of it is all about who you’re proud to be. And who you are when you don’t worry about the world judging you.
It’s who you are when you stop worrying what other people think of you — not in a “fuck you” way, but in a real moment of liking yourself and being who you are at your core way — that attracts people. At least, the people who really matter.
It’s who you are in a crisis, or when you’re not focused on yourself, or when you just let go and enjoy yourself that really gets people’s attention and it’s that person people love.
They love that side of you so much that one they love you, it’s all of you they love.
That’s what Sierra Burgess is a Loser gets right. It understands that you don’t just wake up, have a realization, and stop being a “loser.” It knows that changing who you are to please others never really works and it knows that there’s a difference between plucking your eyebrows or suddenly having a girl whip off her glasses and let her hair down and be “beautiful.”
It knows who Sierra Burgess is and it tips a nod to every Sierra Burgess out there all while somehow reminding people that who you are really is okay and that being a loser doesn’t mean you have to believe yourself to be one.