The rom-com genre seems to be making a comeback this summer. Barring the charming film Crazy Rich Asians, virtually all of these films have found a home on Netflix, where viewers can snuggle up and watch some gooey love stories unfold in the comforts of their own home. Netflix’s recent monopoly over rom-coms is a whole other discussion, but for now, let’s break down some recent flicks and see if they’re worth your time.
Sierra Burgess is a Loser
This flick, directed by Ian Samuels, was released on Netflix over the weekend. It follows the titular character Sierra Burgess (Shannon Purser), a band geek, literary aficionado and social outcast. She puts on a brave face as the resident popular cheerleader Veronica (Kristen Froseth) verbally torments her, but Sierra harbors insecurities regarding her appearance.
When Jamey (Noah Centineo), a quarterback from a rival school, asks for Veronica’s number, she gives him Sierra’s instead. Sierra, initially excited by this attention from sweet yet unassuming Jamey, is shocked to learn that he believes she’s Veronica. What follows is a spiral of lies that amounts to a catfishing scheme to keep Jamey on the hook.
If the premise doesn’t suggest some immediate red-flags about Sierra Burgess is a Loser, allow me to dive in a little deeper: it doesn’t matter how genuine Sierra’s feelings may be for Jamey, because what she (and Veronica, who helps her in this scheme in exchange for tutoring) is doing to him is wrong.
Sierra, in an attempt to justify her actions, tells us, “They’re my words. He’s falling for me.” Within that statement is sort of an interesting idea on whether our essence as human beings can really be distilled into text conversations and phone calls — especially in this day and age where cell phones and social media have become an all-but-physical extension of ourselves. I would argue that we cannot be reduced just to our words, especially in this case because Jamey is interacting with Sierra under the pretense that she is a completely different person, thus limiting his lens to this perspective. Furthermore, nothing about their connection screams “meant to be.” To be honest, Veronica herself could have said those lines of dialogue because they’re that generic. Sierra asks Jamey want animal he would be if he could. Wow, so deep.
The only saving grace in all this are the performances of the cast. Purser does her best with a script that does little to make her character sympathetic by the end of this ordeal — in spite of some pretty horrible actions Sierra takes in the third act. Her relationship with Frosith’s Veronica is actually far more compelling as they learn the plight of the other’s social status, so much so that I was hoping the focus of Sierra Burgess would pivot to focus more on that relationship than the creepy catfishing of poor Jamey. Alas, this is wishful thinking in a rom-com, no matter how ill-fitting the romantic leads are.
Centineo tries to give more life to his character and succeeds in making me sympathize with him — he truly deserves so much better. In a baffling decision, though, Alan Ruck, Lea Thompson and Chrissy Metz are barely utilized at all as Sierra’s parents and Veronica’s mother, respectively. Rather than have any influence on the actual plot, they’re rendered to caricatures of what parents ought to be. Their wasted talent is vastly disappointing.
There are a few laughs to be had here and there, but the inherent ickiness of the whole thing was a big turn-off for me. In a story filled with catfishing, lies, questionable consent and a lot of other problematic elements, Sierra Burgess is a Loser loses indeed.
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before
For those of you looking to get your Noah Centineo fix, this is the flick I would direct you to instead. A critical hit, people haven’t stopped buzzing about To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before since its release — and for good reason.
Directed by Susan Johnson, To All the Boys focuses on Lara Jean Covey (Lana Condor), a 16-year-old high schooler and hopeless romantic who writes letters she’s never sent to all of her past crushes, including boy-next-door Josh (Israel Boussard) and Peter (Noah Centineo), her middle-school crush. Things get complicated when the letters are mysteriously delivered. In order to hide her feelings for Josh, Lara Jean begins a fake relationship with Peter, who in turn is trying to win his old girlfriend back. As the pair spend more and more time together, Lara Jean realizes that this “fake” relationship might be real after all.
Condor and Centineo are so sweet together. Despite the pretenses of their relationship, their connection forms organically and honestly (something that Sierra Burgess lacked). I immediately bought into their relationship with one another, which is a nice testament to the central premise of “is this real or not?” Folks, it’s totally real, and I am HERE for it.
This flick also takes another encouraging step forward in the diversity department, depicting an Asian-American lead in a role often played by white women. Condor owns the screen and easily captures the awkward, often cringe-inducing nature of high school and the relationships that come with it.
There are a few things I wish the film would have handled differently. The impetus behind Lara Jean’s necessity to start this fake relationship with Peter is that she doesn’t want Josh to think she still has feelings for him, which would suggest that Josh is an important part of the story. However, we barely see him get involved after the first act. Part of this is to showcase Lara Jean and Peter’s relationship instead, but I would have liked more character development for Josh.
I also want to comment on something that occurs near the end of the second act, where a seemingly scandalous video involving Lara Jean gets posted on Instagram. The fallout from this video is addressed, but the film largely sweeps it under the rug when it should have dove deeper into the potential damage a video like that can cause on a person, especially because we live in a society where social media posts hold more weight than they used to. It felt like a missed opportunity to say more with that event.
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is a strong addition to the rom-com genre, and a worthy watch on Netflix.
Set It Up
Out of the three rom-coms listed here, Set it Up is my absolute favorite — it’s even cracked my Top 10 of the year thus far!
Directed by Claire Scanlon, Set it Up follows Harper (Zoey Deutch) and Charlie (Glen Powell), two overworked assistants under the beck and call of their demanding bosses Kristen (Lucy Liu) and Rick (Taye Diggs), respectively. Desperate to get a little free time for themselves, Harper and Charlie hatch a plan to set their bosses up on a date — which includes stalling an elevator and getting them in the same section at a baseball game. Enjoying their newfound freedom and the power over their bosses’ schedules, Harper and Charlie spend more time together, where they may or may not be developing feelings for one another in the process.
Set it Up has that perfect blend of “romance” and “comedy” inherent within the narrative without ever feeling forced. Is the plot predictable? Yes, but it’s a rom-com, so you know what you’ve signed up for. Besides, Deutch and Powell are so flipping great together that none of that even matters. Anchored by a sharp, witty script from Katie Silberman, the duo feed off each other so beautifully. I had a grin on my face from start to finish watching this relationship come alive.
As funny as this flick is, it also knows when to inject its dramatic beats into the narrative. When Harper and Charlie’s plotting catches up with them, we see those consequences weigh down on them, affecting their relationships to their bosses and with one another.
The only real flaw I had (outside of the predictability) is that we don’t see as much of Liu’s Kristen and Diggs’ Rick as we could. Their relationship isn’t the focal point of the film necessarily, but they are the ones being “set up,” so the film would have benefitted from including their perspective more. We do see some character development here, but the bosses are just so unbelievably awful and demanding at the beginning of the film that their arcs feel a bit clunky.
Outside of that, the best word to describe Set it Up is “delightful.” It’s a fun watch with some very human moments tied in, and the performances from Deutch and Powell are so good it makes me want to see them in literally everything.
Set it Up was released on Netflix towards the beginning of the summer, but if you haven’t checked it out yet, I highly recommend it. Heck, make it a double-feature with To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before!