For the past few months I’ve anticipated “Lady Bird,” this rare film centered around my hometown of Sacramento.
But now that it’s finally here, I feel troubled and exposed because the film is a much more accurate depiction of growing up in Sacramento than I expected. Saoirse Ronan played the role of every single girl in my high school class, and Laurie Metcalf was everyone’s mother.
Though this demonstrates Greta Gerwig’s extreme talents as a writer and filmmaker, her work has taken an emotional toll on me. To me, “Lady Bird” is a documentary and as the credits rolled, all I could think was: That was exactly it. And now everyone knows.
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When I “escaped” St. Francis High School and moved to New York in 2013, I’d tell people that Sacramento is slow and boring, but inspiring in an unexpected way, because life is somehow emotionally heightened there. But no one ever understood what I was talking about, or cared about Sacramento. At the time, I wanted people to know that though my childhood was simple, it could shape me as an artist just as much as if I’d grown up in New York or Los Angeles.
But “Lady Bird” has changed all of this.
Gerwig brings the viewer fully into the city, with shots of the American River, the Club Raven sign and Thrift Town. This movie isn’t going to make people pick up and buy a new apartment in midtown, but it does show Sacramento as a lovely place to live and raise children. It has made sense of why Sacramentans have chosen this place to call home over somewhere in SoCal or the Bay Area, and why so many people raised here who leave come back as adults to have children of their own.
More importantly, Gerwig gives viewers the exact feelings of growing up here – like the sad kind of happy you don’t understand when you’re driving alone through the trees of East Sacramento. Before “Lady Bird,” there was something exceptional about knowing the only people in the world who could understand my life in Sacramento were those who had lived it with me: my St. Francis crew. For those first few years apart at our separate universities, we talked about how even though we didn’t understand it at the time, our experience was sort of cool – uniform violations, our depressing hipster Jesuit boyfriends, windows down on Fair Oaks Boulevard blasting alternative rock.
But now people from all over the country say this film reminds them of their own childhood, of their own Catholic school, of the relationships they had with their moms. There are universal human experiences in the process of growing up, but I have spent the last few years naively loving a past I thought was special and rare.
I’ve lived in New York and L.A. and had many experiences outside Sacramento, so the fact that “Lady Bird” has made me sad is proof that no matter how far I go, I’m always going to feel protective of this place and my memories. Maybe that’s a response that Gerwig wanted to evoke. Maybe she wanted people to recognize how much they care about where they’re from.
But to me, the most powerful message of “Lady Bird” is that you can’t hoard what is beautiful. It was not enough for Sacramento to be seen and loved by its residents. It’s like the kind of art that demands to be seen and to touch the hearts of people anywhere. Everywhere.
The film, written and directed by Greta Gerwig, stars Saoirse Ronan as a Sacramento teenager trying to find her way out of California as she struggles with a strained relationship with her mother (Laurie Metcalf), her Catholic high school and her lofty aspirations.Trailer courtesy of A24
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Maia Paras Evrigenis of Sacramento is a master’s of fine arts in writing candidate at Cal Institute of the Arts. She can be contacted at email@example.com.