Four Sacramento Sequels to Lady Bird

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

Here’s the good news in Sacramento: Lady Bird, a coming-of-age film set in Sacramento—and written and directed by the California capital’s own Greta Gerwig—has been nominated for five Academy Awards, including best picture.

Here’s the better news for Sacramento: Gerwig, having achieved such success with her directorial debut, says she will make three more films about her hometown.

“I would like to make a quartet of films in Sacramento,” Gerwig told the Sacramento Bee. “I have three more before the quartet is done.”

What will these films be about? No one, perhaps not even Gerwig herself, knows. But Gerwig’s Lady Bird is a semi-autobiographical story: Gerwig grew up Sacramento and attended local schools, like the lead character, a teenager who names herself Lady Bird. The story is grounded in the real experiences, places, and challenges of California’s capital. So it’s possible that Gerwig might do for 21st-century Sacramento what Woody Allen and Spike Lee did for late 20th-century New York: give it defining narratives.

Sacramento badly needs such a narrative, because, since its founding 150 years ago, it’s been an enigma and not in a good way. The puzzle is: why is a place with so many advantages—including beautiful rivers, a sophisticated state government, and the proximity of world-leading agriculture and the Bay Area—such a persistent disappointment? The city lags in economic growth, jobs, access to health care, and educational attainment.

Hopefully, Gerwig’s next films will explore Sacramento’s challenges, and inspire reflection and action. Lady Bird actually does this in its main plotline, which is set in the early 2000s. This creative and brainy teenager—so disappointed with Sacramento’s second-tier cultural and higher-education offerings she calls it “the Midwest of California”— schemes to leave for an elite private college in New York, even though her family can’t afford it.

Such departures are all too common in Sacramento, which has a relatively low rate of college graduates. The capital region ranked 58th—and behind Albany, New York—out of 102 American metro areas in one survey of educational attainment.

Given the potential for Gerwig’s future Sacramento films to surface other problems, I—in the spirit of civic renewal and artistic inspiration —hereby offer the Oscar-nominated director and her production my own abridged treatments for four sequels to the critically acclaimed Lady Bird.

(I also wish Gerwig’s team better luck in securing a state production tax credit for her future films than she had with Lady Bird, which lost out in the subsidies race to something called Save the Cat.)

SACRAMENTO FILM 1: Lady Bird Gets Her Tree

After graduating college and getting her MFA, a homesick Lady Bird, in her late 20s, moves back in with her parents in River Park in 2013, and spends her first six months visiting local coffee shops to figure out which one best fits her aura. She chooses Old Soul, where she meets a poor artist from South Sacramento (Michael B. Jordan).

When Lady Bird’s financially struggling parents sell their house and retire to Texas, the young couple struggles to find a place they can afford. They end up paying more than $1,500 a month for a tiny one-bedroom in Oak Park, but quickly fall behind on rent because the only jobs they can find are driving for Lyft and waiting tables at the Shady Lady Saloon. In 2018, they try to start a business selling marijuana-infused edibles, but the city won’t give them a permit to work out of their apartment.

In the third act, their landlord evicts them so he can rent to richer Bay Area refugees, and Lady Bird and her beau relocate to the homeless encampment along the American River. They make do there until heavy rains away their belongings. When all appears to be lost, Lady Bird, always proud of Sacramento’s dense tree canopy, decides to build a treehouse in a maple in West Sacramento, and the pro-growth council in that small city lets her keep it.

SACRAMENTO FILM 2: Lady Bird Returns: Hired Liar)

In this genre-bending black comedy, Lady Bird returns from her East Coast education to snag a low-level staff job in the Capitol. After years of fending off lecherous legislators, she becomes a lobbyist, working for interest groups that support children’s programs.

She quickly discovers that the legislature and governor don’t care about children—and are eager to cut kids’ programs to fund things that matter to adults. Then, in a horror movie turn, she learns that millions of California children are imprisoned in a secret, off-budget underground city beneath the Capitol. Dutifully, she reports this to Sacramento journalists, but there are only three left, and they are too busy filing online updates to stories about the latest California clash with Trump to cover the captives.

Lady Bird falls into despair. But then she meets a wealthy and witty telecommunications lobbyist, who is a British-born graduate of Stanford (Tom Hiddleston). They carry out a torrid love affair in the sorts of out-of-town places favored by rich Sacramentans—his pied-à-terre in San Francisco and his rustic chateau in Tahoe. She decides she likes the fine life, and becomes a lobbyist for developer Angelo Tsakopolous.

In the concluding scene, the couple feed each other hyper-local “Farm-to-Fork” nachos in a luxury box at the Kings basketball game at Golden One Center. When he drops to one knee to propose at halftime, she is overcome with emotion, but manages to say:

“Yes, on one condition. Promise me we’ll never have children. Because the schools here suck.”

SACRAMENTO FILM 3: Lady Bird in the Swamp

After drinking too much craft beer and eating a deep-fried, bacon-wrapped Reese’s peanut butter cup at the State Fair, Lady Bird becomes disoriented on her way home and drives into a slough in the Delta.

She’s rescued by an improbably handsome seventh-generation pear farmer (Chris Pine), who nurses her back to health and makes her his wife. The film becomes a climate change pastoral, as Lady Bird observes the worsening cycles of flood and drought in the swamp, struggles with subsidence, and takes on the difficult DIY job of putting her home on stilts.

But then, when all seems lovely, mysterious engineers appear on the property, interrupting her Delta idyll. Powerful water agencies are secretly drilling an underground water tunnel that was abandoned after a court fight long ago.

In a final act straight out of Erin Brockovich, Lady Bird investigates and even takes a bus to L.A. for a dramatic confrontation with the head of the Metropolitan Water District, who appears to be a zombie. But when the tunneling continues, she returns home and digs a hole that puts her body in front of the tunneling machine. She is killed, but so is the water tunnel project. Finally.

SACRAMENTO FILM 4: Lady Bird Versus the Apocalypse

Yes, Gerwig says she is only doing three more films, but I’m sure her agent will want her to do a bigger payday action film—set in Sacramento, of course.

In 2050, years after her death in the Delta tunnel, new technology brings Lady Bird back as a part-human-part-machine cyborg. She settles happily in Sacramento—until a Pineapple Express system rains over the city for months, collapsing levees and completely flooding her hometown.

Searching for higher ground, she heads first to the Foothills, but a vigilante squad of gun-toting locals shoots at her and other city refugees, because they vote too Democratic. So, after building a raft from old wood furniture, she heads west across the flood waters to Davis. There, NIMBYs express sympathy for Sacramento’s dispossessed but refuse to accept the refugees, saying they cannot possibly support any more development.

Out of options, Lady Bird swims through the floodwaters south to downtown Stockton, where she takes shelter in the abandoned Federal Building. Inside, she discovers an old, rugged man who is also part machine (Harrison Ford). He takes her on his catamaran back to Sacramento, where they restore order and kick some serious butt.

After that, everything is OK in California’s capital.

 

Joe Mathews writes the Connecting California column for Zócalo Public Square.

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