The Streaming Romance: Reception and Perception in Modern Moviestaying

Sierra Burgess Is a Loser (2018)

Sierra Burgess Netflix Movie

Critic Score: 61%
Audience Score: 31%

Sierra Burgess never feels good enough. She lives in the shadow of successful parents and superficially stunning classmates, but she will do anything to overcome feeling like a loser – even pretending to be someone else. This coming-of-age story shows that self-perception is reality, and doesn’t shy away from the vicious aspects of being a teen.

What the Critics Say (38 Reviews):

Sierra Burgess Is a Loser draws from this tradition of unlikely romantic pairings, and makes some welcome improvements, most notably presenting a female protagonist who is not “nerdy” simply by virtue of wearing glasses and tying her hair into a bun. But Sierra doesn’t seem to experience any genuine contrition; she revels in self-pity, convinced her insecurities justify her manipulative behavior. By condoning its titular character’s behavior throughout the film, Sierra Burgess warps the teen–rom-com formula past redemption and toward something far more sinister. That’s hard to root for.” – Hannah Giorgis, The Atlantic

“There’s a comfortable intimacy to the visual style, and Purser leads the heartfelt film with her vulnerable performance. Centineo once again proves to be irresistible, even if his character is just a little bit too good to be true. Surprisingly, the film actually gives the mean girl a real life, diving into her psychology and home life, and Froseth navigates Veronica’s journey with grace. The smart script and butterfly-inducing romance captures those sweet moments of falling in love — whether it’s with your crush, or even better, with a friend.” –Katie Walsh, Los Angeles Times

“The pairing of Purser and Centineo in Sierra Burgess Is a Loser could go down as the Sleepless in Seattle of Netflix Originals… Sierra Burgess is an otherwise derivative teen comedy that aims to be Cyrano de Bergerac with smartphones and falls somewhere far more boring and creepy. It feels as clinical as the soulless, ready-made “omg John Hughes vibes” synthpop soundtrack: several levels removed from an actual feeling or sensation.” – Emily Yoshida, Vulture

The concerns for Centineo’s bodily autonomy are valid, and the mechanics of the strange kiss are even more ridiculous. The mistake is never addressed beyond “sorry I catfished you”, and his comments make it clear that he remembers the kiss. Calling the film “soulless” is a bit strong, and the score and visuals absolutely bring a classic-meets-modern feel to the film. Performance and character are the meat of the film, and, for the most part, hit their marks. 

What the Audience Says (1,294 Reviews): 

“I’ll be honest, I liked this movie. I’m not gonna sit here and tell you that it redefines the teen comedy genre, because it doesn’t. But it doesn’t have to to be an enjoyable movie. I think that’s something that people sometimes overestimate. One of the things I need to point out, and this is one of the things that I liked, is that the movie tells a story that’s very much a modern tale for the digital (centered around catfishing) while also, in some parts, feeling a bit like an 80s movie, like a Sixteen Candles or something like that with Sierra hoping to score a date with the quarterback of her high school football team’s rival.” – Jesse O, 3 Star Review

“Embarrassing this movie was released. Boring as hell and encourages catfishing. I’m all for being happy about your body and all that, but this isn’t what this movie is about. It’s about using someone else for your own gain.” – Poppy A, 1 Star Review

“Have you ever seen a movie that you realized afterward that you just wasted the past hour and a half watching? That is Sierra Burgess is a Loser… making the main character catfish, or pretend to be someone else to attract the other, is not the way to [get us to root for this couple]. Overall, Sierra Burgess is not the role model we should all be hoping to learn from.” – Allison R, 0.5 Star Review

Audience reviews seem really hung up on the act of catfishing, and these are just a few of the many that think the film is in favor of catfishing. The entire point of the movie is to not do that. There was too much body shaming, and misunderstandings about what points the film is making about our society’s perception of people who don’t conform to certain beauty standards. There are problems with the movie, but not enough to drag it down with excessively negative reviews.


Audiences latched onto the specifics of the story without fully recognizing the reasons, repercussions and changes brought on by the action (catfishing, in this case). Critics certainly noticed problems, but none believed the film encouraged audiences to take inappropriate action – instead, they believed it failed to fully realize the poor actions of the character, illustrating how said critics approached the piece in terms of structure as well as the film’s narrative through line.

Set It Up (2018)

Set It Up Netflix

Critic Score: 92%
Audience Score: 69%

The Parent Trap meets The Devil Wear Prada – two overworked corporate assistants decide to set up their cruel bosses in order to earn some free time. The millennial struggle for fair treatment in corporate America is laid bare in this absurd Rom-Com, and shows how happiness exists beyond occupational achievement.

What the Critics Say (59 Reviews):

““Do you know what the opposite of love is?” asks its twentysomething lead. “Indifference.” She’d know. Hollywood’s been indifferent to rom coms for a while now. While the movie isn’t heavily plotted, the humor is so dense it’s practically footnoted.  Now audiences want movies with insight by filmmakers who wave away girl-versus-boy behavioral cliches to write real characters. So here’s our command: more films like Set It Up, please.” – Amy Nicholson, Rolling Stone

“It’s satisfying, for the most part—a solid romantic comedy with sharp dialogue, amusing characters, a soundtrack of well-worn feel-good hits, and a few surprises up its sleeve. Its only major flaw is an inability to imagine the bosses as richly as the leads. There’s so much life in this movie that I wanted it to have even more. But it’s still bursting with talent.” – Matt Zoller Seitz,

“It’s instructive that many articles lauding Set It Up as the second coming of the rom-com don’t contest its aggressive mediocrity.  It’s a movie about the kinds of movies viewers wish it actually was. Because we’re starving for a genre that has no global franchise potential… critics predisposed to the genre review Set It Up like it’s a fine dish. Really, though, the movie is cinematic Soylent: flavorless, joyless, and devoid of any surprises.” – Lara Zarum, Village Voice

Dialogue and delivery absolutely stand out in this film, and while the actors work as friends, their romantic chemistry isn’t perfect. Certain scenes do feel strained (such as the kiss cam in Yankees Stadium), but the machinations of the plot aren’t particularly bothersome. Yet it’s hard not to agree with the “flavorless” comment from Lara Zarum – watching it doesn’t inspire awe, and it lacks the magic present in To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before.

What the Audience Says (1,203 Reviews): 

“I want to like it but I really think the Director did a very poor job of wasting a possible comedic plot. The lead actors are good but the story was too unimaginative.” – Jenny S, 3 Star Review

“What satisfies me about this movie is that both protagonists have actual personalities AND a connection that feels genuine, rather than merely circunstancial; which is more than anyone could say about most romcoms.” – Andrea O, 4 Star Review

“Astounded that this mess got such a good rating. It was a 105 minute meme of every ROM-COM you have ever seen.The lines were shallow; the outcome predictable.” – David K, 0.5 Star Review

Pretty boring group of audience reviews. The worst of them exaggerate “Rom-Com tropes” and “bad writing” as if that makes a movie unwatchable, dragging down the overall score. Most audience members seem to agree with critics about the movie being enjoyable overall, so this movie may be worth a watch if you enjoy the genre.


Critics adored the way this film updated the Rom-Com to reflect life and values in the late 2010s, while audiences thought the film wasn’t quite so revolutionary while still being enjoyable on some level, the disparity existing once again due to audiences holding narrative and characterisation as pilars of their analysis, the critics instead critiquing the film from a wider genre-specific, historical perspective.

Recommended for you: Set It Up (2018) Review

When We First Met (2018)

When We First Met Netflix Romcom

Critic Score: 43%
Audience Score: 57%

Adam DeVine travels through time to try and win over the woman he obsesses over. It’s a silly concept that plays with our idea of destiny and finding the “one”. 

What the Critics Say (23 Reviews):

“The potentially problematic premise of “When We First Met” is narrowly sidestepped because the film zigs when you expect it to zag, thwarting Noah’s efforts at every turn. It’s not about Noah getting the dream girl, but realizing that it’s OK to be friends, and that idealizing one person based on a set of assumed characteristics is never the path to true love.” –Katie Walsh, Los Angeles Times

“The concept of “When We First Met” sounds like it could be offensively atrocious if it leaned too far into the possessiveness of its premise. The truth is that “When We First Met” is too benign to be offensive. Most of all, “When We First Met” just falls into a style gap. It’s not broad enough to be offensive or silly. It’s not realistic enough to be emotional or moving. It’s just … there.”Brian Tallerico,

“Because what the world needs now is another movie about a guy violating every rule of the space-time continuum just to convince a resistant girl to have sex with him. It’ll take you roughly five minutes to realize that Noah is going about things the wrong way; it’ll take him more than 90. Somewhere, in the vast time between those two epiphanies, you might stop wondering why you’re watching this movie on Netflix, and start wondering why you’re watching it at all.” – David Ehrlich, IndieWire

It’s easy to pre-judge this movie going in because of the ridiculous premise and the apparent male entitlement. However, the twist of the movie makes it worth watching to maybe end the socialized idea (partially from Rom-Coms) that if a guy acts a certain way, he’ll get the girl of his dreams. That alone is enough to at least make this worth a watch, though disagreement is certainly understandable. Using photographs as a metaphor for “seizing the moment” may not be terribly groundbreaking, but it’s worth some points for being integrated at all.

What the Audience Says (804 Reviews): 

“DeVine is the star here and the rest of the cast have very little to work with, films like this have supporting cast that are provided next to nothing.” – Brendan N, 2 Star Review

When We First Met is a fun and easy-going movie. I got a bit lost in the timeline but you pick it up again rather quickly. It has a great cast and I enjoyed the storyline a lot. So, yea, it’s a fun movie, nothing too special, but very enjoyable.” – Serena d, 3 Star Review

“It’s such a pleasure to see Adam Devine try what I’ve tried many times myself; attempt to force something as magical and mysterious as love to happen when actually, it’s gonna take it’s own frustrating, confusing time.” – Bridget B, 5 Star Review

The worst allude to the lack of originality, the best are amazed that it isn’t a steaming pile of garbage. This movie might be the definition of an average film, and way too many people have spent way too much time making that evident – myself included.


Here the audience members that liked it were more forgiving of tropes because they either liked Adam DeVine, connected with the ideas, or are pro-time traveling phone booth – though a good portion took that to be a negative, as is illustrated by the number of times people say “Groundhog Day” in poor reviews. Critics didn’t find as much to like, deeming it too mediocre to not be worth patting on the back for not being sexist. It’s not like either side particularly liked it, but some audience outliers seemed to really enjoy it.

Films have a tendency to advertise their Rotten Tomatoes scores as a selling point, and that same score is always at the top of any Google search for a given work. We shouldn’t look at that score and use it to determine quality because it’s an aggregation of a lot of different opinions based on an unlimited amount of factors. Professional critics are not a monolith, and their word summed up in a number isn’t the zenith of how one should judge a film.

At the same time, audience scores are even wilder. People bring all kinds of reasons and unknown levels of experience into their reviews. There isn’t always a confirmation that the people have seen the film, or that they fully understood what the filmmaker was going for. There’s still value in reading the opinion and seeing how it jives with your preconceived notions of the film, especially when they are at odds with the critic scores.

Has anything really been accomplished here? Hopefully you’ve gotten better insight into whether or not you should spend your time watching these easily accessible movies this Valentine’s season, but the biggest lessons to take away are that film is subjective and a lot of our opinions come down to our emotional experiences, prejudices and ability to interpret film; certainly more than any “objective” measures like stars, tomatoes, grades, or frames per second worth seeing. Film reviewing is the greatest exercise in futility humanity has the pleasure to partake in, and we should all do our part to encourage thought about even the silliest of movies.

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