Netflix's take on the classic play Cyrano de Bergerac differs greatly from the tragic ending of Edmond Rostand's work, in which the "ugly" Cyrano dies just moments after revealing to his great love, Roxane, that he has been the one behind the words spoken by the handsome-but-dim Christian. In Netflix's Sierra Burgess Is A Loser, the smart, funny, if not particularly "cool" titular character wins — not just the heart of love interest Jamey (played by the internet's boyfriend Noah Centineo) but also a powerful friendship with Kristine Froseth's "mean girl" Veronica, with whom she swaps identities in order to continue a phone-only relationship with Jamey.
"Even though the mistaken identity idea is popular in teen movies, I feel that our take is a bit more empowering," Shannon Purser told Refinery29 at a recent Netflix press junket.
Sierra doesn't actually change to order to start a real relationship with Jamey. In fact, the thing really hindering the relationship from moving forward is the fact that Sierra isn't being her true self. It's Sierra's quick wit and thoughtfulness that makes Jamey swoon — even if it is over the phone, with him assuming it's Veronica on the other end of the line. When Jamey finally meets Sierra in person, he's still enamored... just less-than-happy that she felt the need to hide.
"I think this movie really shows that inner peace and meaningful relationships come from being authentic," Purser explained. "To put your heart on the line, you have to be your true self... It's a real reckoning for Sierra when she realizes that her problems are not external. They’re internal; they’re the way that she views herself and the people around her."
While Sierra is insecure about how she looks, she doesn't see herself as a loser — she just believes that people like Veronica are capable of opening doors with their looks alone. Sierra thinks that these doors are permanently locked for people "like her" — and the film sets out to prove her wrong.
Yet the film is also careful to make sure that Sierra's entire self-worth doesn't come from how she looks, or how she doesn't. Though Sierra is insecure about her appearance when compared with someone like Veronica, who is routinely celebrated for her looks by Centineo's Jamey, Sierra knows she's smart, driven, and funny. When Veronica dishes out insults at Sierra's clothes, hair, and even weight, Sierra knows exactly how to throw it back.
"I feel like the typical outcast [in a teen movie] is bullied and [just accepts that will happen], but Sierra believes in herself, and stands up for herself [against people like Veronica]," Froseth said. "Sierra is a bit more modern. And her comebacks are amazing!"
As for Veronica, she's insecure in her own way, Froseth pointed out. She bullies and belittles Sierra because she's certain she's not as smart as she is. So, Veronica plays the role of mean girl instead — even though, as evidenced by the friendship built between Veronica and Sierra over the course of their scheming, it's not who she really is.
"I kind of straightaway had a conversation with the director [Ian Samuels] and saw that [Veronica's mean girl tendencies] were just a facade she puts on. She’s just really lost and trying to figure out who she is," said Froseth, whose character's own mother (Chrissy Metz) encourages Veronica to always be the prettiest face in the room. At the end of the film, the cheerleader finds a real passion for philosophy — encouraged by new BFF Sierra.
Veronica and Sierra's is the friendship we root for just as much as the love story between Sierra and Jamey.
"I think that everybody sort of defies expectation and stereotypes in this movie," Purser said. "[The film could have] very easily pitted Veronica and Sierra against each other, but I think the friendship they ultimately form makes the film really beautiful. It's even more central than the romance."
Sierra Burgess Is A Loser hits Netflix Friday, September 7.