Watch This: 'Lady Bird'

Sunday, December 24, 2017 / 6:29 PM

There's something magical about the way the sun meets the water at the end of a Sacramento summer day. It looks idyllic, yet it wasn't like it signaled anything special. It's just how the rivers look as the sun sets, and that's the thing about Sacramento: at the end of the day, it's quite a plain place to have grown up – and that's what makes it the perfect setting for a film like Lady Bird.

Hours of discussion can arise from a film like Lady Bird – the mother/daughter relationship, Catholic high schools, Danny – but what I want to talk about right now is Sacramento.

I know that Lady Bird is not the definitive piece of art about Sacramento, but it is art, nonetheless, about a place that often is not the setting for art. Its marriage of my hometown, my high school experience, and my favorite writer (Joan Didion, a Sacramento native – and occasional critic – herself) felt like a memory: passing through all the tree-lined streets, dreaming of living in the Fab 40s, my 16th birthday at Tower Theatre, buying outfits for school dances from Thrift Town. And seeing it all on screen was the love letter I always wondered if I would write one day about a place that I loved.

Growing up, I thought Sacramento was boring. It wasn't as flashy as Los Angeles or as busy as San Francisco. I didn't think it could inspire anything the way New York could, and wasn't there a reason TV shows and movies always took place in New York? It's not like anyone would ever write a movie about the sandwiches at Mr. Pickles or walking around Downtown Plaza.

To me, growing up in Sacramento meant nothing exciting could ever really happen, and in that way, I can see why Christine invents this identity for herself. She wants to be known as "Lady Bird" and she wants people to think she lives on the "wrong side of the tracks," all while dreaming of a richer life in the most gorgeous neighborhood. She's an extreme version of herself in order to stand out because the worst thing for someone growing up bored is to be just another face in the suburbs. It's why she can't understand why Jenna, who is beautiful and rich and has the kinds of stories you hear about in movies, would want to stay in a place like Sacramento.

And I get that, because I used to think that too. Staying in Sacramento meant being stuck in one place. Like Lady Bird, I couldn't appreciate it until I left. I grew up wanting Sacramento to be something different, and if it couldn't be that thing I wanted – cultured, fast, flashy – then it must be dull and unimaginative, as if it was created as a placeholder for something "better."

But Sacramento is special. It's diverse and beautiful and challenging in its own way. Most importantly, it's home. No matter where I live, or will live next, I will never forget the neon lights of the Tower Theatre or the way the Delta Breeze feels after a humid summer day. Sure, there are parts that are boring, but I found myself bored at times too when I lived in DC or New York (and even now in LA). But being bored in Sacramento had nothing to do with Sacramento itself; it was simply about the way I approached Sacramento.

Near the end of the film, Sister Sarah tells Lady Bird she must really love Sacramento because of the way she wrote about it in her college essay. Lady Bird says she just pays attention, that's all.

"But aren't they the same thing? Love and attention?" Sister Sarah asks.

That moment is enough to make you fall in love with the things you never thought you could love.

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  1. I love this, Traci! Mel and I watched it together and I felt so much love for Sacramento while sitting there. I loved when Ladybird mentioned not wanting to go to UCD because it was too close. I felt the same way! I have a newfound love for the city each time I come home now. I guess being away kind of brings about that affection. Thanks for sharing!