Californiana Guest Blog
By Zoe Manzanetti
California has long had a love affair with the arts, and particularly with motion pictures. The relationship has grown so strong that Hollywood has become synonymous with the film industry. From The Castro to Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, motion pictures are connected to some of California’s most iconic cities. Sacramento, more often than not, has been excluded from such imagery of glitz and glamour.
This year’s awards season pays tribute to many actors, directors, movements, ideas, and, of course, films; however this year’s award shows hold particular significance for California’s capital city in the form of “Lady Bird”, and its many nominations including, but not limited to, one for Best Picture (Oscars), Best Motion Picture for a Comedy or Musical (Golden Globes, winner), Best Director (Oscars), Best Actress (Oscars and Golden Globes, winner), Best Supporting Actress (Oscars and Golden Globes, and Best Original Screenplay (Oscars).
The semi-autobiographical film depicts a high school senior during her senior year of high school as she experiences and dreams of relationships, love, future, success. The motion picture drew a lot of attention not only to the Sacramento-local, Greta Gerwig, who envisioned, wrote and directed the film but also to her hometown. While Sacramento for many is just a stop along the way, for Gerwig and other Sacramentans it is the stop.
Many view Sacramento as California’s provincial perfunctory Capital; small and unobtrusive in nature. But for those of us that call Sacramento home, this is exactly what we love, and boring it is not. Living in a smaller city allows Sacramentans to have the sense of community that is often wiped away by heavy traffic and speedy subways. The relaxed and communal air of Sacramento streets wafts with the smell of artisanal coffee and the energy of inspiration. Though Sacramento doesn’t have metropolis-sized art galleries or many red carpet debuts, the scavenger hunt of murals on the sides of buildings and the quality works at the Crocker Art Museum parallel the city’s quiet, yet thriving, art culture.
As Sacramentans embraced the art culture and watched their city on the big screen, so, too, did the residents of other cities; “Lady Bird” won the hearts of many and, eventually, won the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture for a Comedy or Musical.
While “Lady Bird” is Sacramento’s first award-winner of the year, it is not the first film to be shot or based in Sacramento, and it won’t be the last; 1999’s “American Beauty” has beginning scenes that depict aerial views of Sacramento, the 2017 film “Brad’s Status” follows a Sacramento based family, and Clint Eastwood already has a February 2018 release date for his motion picture “15:17 to Paris”, depicting the heroic story of three Sacramentans. So, what makes “Lady Bird” so special?
Lady Bird is set in 2002 when California was in in the midst of a shift in mentality that had dramatically altered the landscape in many communities, Sacramento included. As described in the book Coast of Dreams California on the Edge, 1990-2003, by Kevin Starr, many Californians were becoming discontented with urban life which “too often meant nonresponsive institutions, questionable public schools, and a growing sense of danger based on the realities of rising crime statistics,” and to solve this discontentment they moved themselves to the sub-urban zones (319). The second half of the twentieth century in California was a time of middle-class ideals when malls and swimming pools were rising in importance over crime rates and opulence. An urban historian from NYU, Thomas Bender, claimed in 1997 that cities were “becoming the City Lite—a consumerist theme park for visiting suburbanites,” allowing people to experience only the best parts of the city while not having to live directly in them (Starr 307).
As people both rich and poor moved out of cities and into the suburbs, they took the extremes with them. Poor people moved for job opportunities and lower costs of living. Wealthier people also moved and saw a great increase their standards of living – larger houses, pools, property, and cars. This emigration leveled the two polar opposites within cities and the bell curve shrank, not eliminating the ends of the spectrum (rich and poor) but merely moving them closer together. This sub-urban migration, in many places, caused “the ancient values of the city- community, the drama of everyday life, the shaping presence of institutions” to return to the suburbs; however “Lady Bird” showcases the alternative to this Californian reality – highlighting how a those who remain in a city, such as Sacramento, shape the community and thus influence the young people growing up in it (Starr 320). In the film Lady Bird experiments with friends, family, relationships, explores the city and imagines her future. Sacramento provides her a cushioned tryout for the realities of adulthood. Gerwig’s film illuminates the subsequent impact a city can have on an individual as much as individuals can impact a city.
Sacramento maintains its communal ambiance with a small population, local businesses, and a local art-focus. Art has always been a strong focus of Sacramento because it is something that can be accepted and adapted to fit across cultures and Sacramento is known for being an extremely diverse city. Gerwig directs her film to be a testimony not just of Sacramento but of high school, adolescence, family, relationships, sexuality, and so much more. It is this adaptability which allows diverse viewers to identify and connect with the characters. “Lady Bird” shows us that each story is just as valuable and just as influential in each other’s lives; Christine depends on many different people throughout the film, just as the city’s residents are all codependent, relying on one another to keep local coffee shops and the sense of community alive, encouraging us all to be our best selves.
Gerwig breaks the trend by depicting Sacramento as something other than a small-town from which you need to escape; while there is some feeling of wanderlust, it’s not in spite of Sacramento, it is because of Sacramento. The small city raises us with a desire for exploration and learning as it shapes us, helps us grow, pushes us, frustrates us, ignores us, but welcomes us back whenever we are ready. Though we may build lives in different corners of the world, we know as residents “she’ll come back” because our city goes with us wherever we go, as our foundation, as memory, and as living love. Sacramento wants the best for us as a parent, sibling, and friend, only sometimes it takes us distance and isolation to learn that.
The director describes “Lady Bird” as a “love letter” to Sacramento and that difference in mentality is truly what sets “Lady Bird” apart from the other films. For those who live in Sacramento, we find as much enchantment in the city each day as other viewers do in those 94 minutes. The city of trees lives, breathes, grows with us as we do; it holds a special place within everyone but it’s one we can all relate to as we drive through Sacramento or see our city looking back at us on screen. As Gerwig thanked “the people of Sacramento” in her Golden Globe acceptance speech, the people thanked “Lady Bird” for giving them such a beautiful embodiment of their city.