We all remember Barb: Nancy’s best friend, the reasonable one with a good head on her shoulders. We were just beginning to learn about the world of the Upside Down that lives under Hawkins, Ind. in season 1 of “Stranger Things” when Barb was whisked away by the Demogorgon, never to be seen (alive) again. The internet was ablaze (for a few weeks; we all have short attention spans) of cries for some kind of justice for poor Barb.
While Shannon Purser has made a few appearances on The CW’s “Riverdale” as Ethel Muggs, Purser’s latest role gives her the spotlight. “Sierra Burgess Is a Loser” was released on Netflix on Sept. 7 and also stars Noah Centineo (of “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” notoriety) as her pretty-boy love interest.
In short, the movie is about Sierra Burgess, supposedly the biggest loser in school, who strikes up a text conversation with Jamey, a guy she immediately connects with. Except Jamey thinks she is Veronica, a mean-girl cheerleader who has no interest in him. When Sierra and Veronica team up for a you-scratch-my-back-I’ll-scratch-yours scenario (Veronica desperately needs help with school to impress her college “boyfriend”), they end up good friends, but a series of miscommunications and bad timing almost throws everything off course.
But, duh, everything ends up fine because it’s the new and improved rom-com era. Netflix is handing these out like candy on Halloween, and we’re eating it up. Between TABILB, “The Kissing Booth,” “Set It Up” and more on the horizon, I’m sure, Netflix is proving that romantic comedies aren’t dead and don’t have to feature an A-list actress. “Sierra Burgess Is a Loser” is a fine example of that opinion.
So my question is this: Is this film the justice that Barb deserves?
Well, yes and no. I can break it down in a few different ways.
If we’re looking at just the singular plot and character goals of the film, yes, Barb got her justice in the sense that there was a happy ending for Sierra. The truth about her catfishing finally came out and Jamey gave her a chance anyway. She finally told her dad that she wanted to be a songwriter instead of a poet and he accepted her. She made up with her friends -- both Daniel and Veronica.
Along a different line of thinking, “Sierra Burgess Is a Loser” as a whole was, in a way, justice for Barb. Do I have to be the first to point out that Sierra’s parents in the movie were played by Alan Ruck and Lea Thompson, aka Cameron from “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and Lorraine from “Back to the Future”? Two of the most popular films from the ‘80s were represented here, drawing some comparisons to the ‘80s-centric role Purser played in “Stranger Things.” It was a cute little Easter egg, intentional or not.
There’s also the finer points of the film that gave it a hefty dose of humanity and authenticity that we weren’t used to seeing in the ‘90s and ‘00s rom-coms of yesteryear. Like the mini deafness plot line, where Jamey and his brother communicate in sign language. And the character depth of Veronica: Her mother is emotionally broken and leads an emotionally-broken household, so of course Veronica has a bit of a mean streak. But regardless, she and Sierra find a common ground and we see the stereotypical mean girl take on a new skin. It’s refreshing.
But in other ways, “Sierra Burgess Is a Loser” is a bit of an injustice. The whole movie is about an “ugly” girl’s erratic ploy to keep a boy close, since she’s so sure he won’t like the real her. Not only is this sentiment overdone, but it’s a bit archaic in 2018. Since when do we not encourage body positivity on screen?
I guess I should say that Sierra isn’t a meek character. In fact, the first words spoken in the movie are, “You are a magnificent beast,” spoken by Sierra into the mirror. She stands up to the mean girls and hits them back with literary references; she risks humiliation and tries out for the boys’ track team to try and boost her college applications. So, Sierra isn’t the quintessential timid unpopular girl -- she’s kind of a bad*ss.
Which is why I was a bit disappointed with how her character went about things. Why didn’t she come clean to Jamey earlier? She kissed him without him knowing it was her, even. She let her academics slip, she became distant from her parents. Is the point that even as confident as Sierra is, she still have a hint of low self-esteem problems because she’s deemed “ugly” by her peers? In any case, the character development here seemed a bit off.
“Sierra Burgess Is a Loser” is a teenage rom-com reminiscent of those of decades past, so I’m taking it at face value. It’s a cute story with a fun cast, and ultimately can be considered #JusticeForBarb. Keep doing your thing, Purser.