“Lady Bird,” the directorial debut from writer and actress Greta Gerwig, opens with a quote from Sacramento native and world-renowned writer Joan Didion: “Anybody who talks about California
hedonism has never spent a Christmas in Sacramento.” Didion’s quote serves as an epigraph to “Lady Bird,” but it signifies more than just its themes.
“Well, reading Joan Didion for me was transformative because it was the first time I had the experience of reading a great writer and a true artist turned her eye on a place that I was from,” Gerwig told The Independent Collegian. “And in a way, it was both that she was a woman and that she was from Sacramento. Those things were something that felt different to me.”
She said she knew there were women writers that were people from her part of the world, but it didn’t quite click for her until she read Didion's works.
"I think I can trace back wanting to be a writer and an artist and a creator to reading Joan’s work about California and about Sacramento specifically," Gerwig said.
“Lady Bird” feels like a culmination of the feelings Gerwig had while reading Didion. The movie highlights the beauty and depth of a city like Sacramento but is told through the eyes of a main character that can’t realize its importance until she leaves.
The movie focuses on the final year of high school for Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson, portrayed by Saoirse Ronan. Lady Bird is motivated through the movie by a desire to experience something, to live through something significant. She feels deeply disappointed in the life she has lived so far, longing to leave Sacramento and go to New York so her life can finally start.
“Lady Bird” echoes the feelings many teenagers across the country have in this phase of their lives. Growing up dissatisfied with your hometown isn’t uncommon, and feeling the need to go somewhere that is perceived as culturally significant or important is even less so.
What “Lady Bird” excels at is not only making Lady Bird’s discontent so relatable but making every aspect of the story feel personal to the viewer.
Gerwig said she's always loved that movies can take you into a world you’ve never been in, and will never be able to go in, and still make you feel like you know it.
“I wanted to make it this town and this people and these people. Because I think the truth is that through that specificity, people would have a greater likelihood of connecting to their own life and their own hometown and their own families and where they're from and where they're going," she said. "And I didn’t expect, though, how much so many people would say to me, 'I’ve never been to Sacramento but I have a Sacramento in my heart.'"
Gerwig said it’s incredible that everyone can understand it.
When you watch “Lady Bird,” it’s hard not to relate it back to your own life. Every person Lady Bird interacts with, every struggle she goes through and every conversation she has feels applicable to something personal. The characters not only feel real, they feel like people you have known for years, and it adds a level of genuineness to the movie that stays with you beyond the theater.
“Lady Bird” hits many of the same notes for the audience that Joan Didion hit for Gerwig, except in a much wider capacity. Seeing art that recognizes the importance of your home in an artistic sense is important to those that feel they need to change locations to find their true meaning, or that where they grow up is insufficient.
Gerwig said she hopes that the film connects to people from less documented cities because she is interested in those types of cities and their stories.
"I think there’s a lot of richness there and a lot of things that we don’t get to see and that’s what I'm always looking for when I go to the movie theater and hope that in a way someone will watch this and feel like they can make a film about the place that they're in and not feel like they have to leave in order to make their artistic statement," Gerwig said.
While “Lady Bird” stays deeply committed to Sacramento, it’s difficult not to fill in the cracks with your own experiences. During the final monologue when Lady Bird calls her parents from New York City and describes all the things she misses about Sacramento, she might as well be describing landmarks from your own insignificant home town. The things you can only appreciate once you leave are on full display in “Lady Bird,” and it makes for an experience that lets you recognize them before you’re gone.