Casting Sacramento

Before Lady Bird, the 916 played bit parts in these very different screen stories

I don’t know about you, but I always get a little giddy when Sacramento shows up on screen. Maybe because it’s so rare.

Occasionally we book a cameo gig, like when 2005’s Walk the Line brings the Johnny Cash story to Folsom Prison for the country legend’s famed live concert. But even these bit parts can be a little deflating. Take this year’s Mike White drama Brad’s Status, in which Ben Stiller plays the head of a Sacramento nonprofit who’s jealous of all his more successful college peers.

In case you’re missing the implication, the movie shorthands Sacramento as the city of the unfulfilled.

That’s why it’s so refreshing that actress Greta Gerwig cast Sac in a starring role with her critically lauded Lady Bird. But this town is no ingenue. Here are a few bit parts you might have missed:

Other People (2016): Chris Kelly wrote and directed this semi-autobiographical tale of a gay man (Jesse Plemons) who returns to Sacramento (possibly Elk Grove) to be with his dying mom (Molly Shannon). I've heard this movie is an affecting showcase for its cast (especially Shannon, who earned raves for her performance), but I've yet to watch it because its subject matter cuts a little close to home. My brother loved it, though.

Togetherness (2015-16): On for only two seasons on HBO, this wise, witty Duplass Bros. comedy about the compromises of adult life was based in Los Angeles. But in the first season finale, one of the main characters road trips up here with a group of charter school supporters—and is tempted by another man. Maybe that should be our water tower motto: “Sacramento—where public schools and marriages come to die.”

Happy Endings (2011-13): This quippy ABC series was set in Chicago, but I swear someone on the creative staff must have deep ties to Sacramento, because some of the show's most scalding jokes were made at our expense. The most sustained 916 burn came in the season three episode, “More Like Stanksgiving,” which unearths a never-aired season of MTV's The Real World, set in, you guessed it, Sacramento. The city even gets the Real World opening credits treatment: As seven obnoxious strangers recite familiar lines about how real it’s all gonna get, we get quick-cut glimpses of famed Sacramento landmarks—the Tower Bridge. The state Capitol. Our … low skyline. … Downtown traffic. … A friggin’ light-rail train!? By the time the Tower Bridge makes another place-holder appearance, you’ll be tittering so hard it’ll hurt. And it will hurt.

Frances Ha (2012): The Noah Baumbach film, co-written by Gerwig, is about a struggling dancer (Gerwig), whose aimless tranquility is upended when her best friend (Mickey Sumner) moves out of their shared Brooklyn apartment and onto the next phase of her life. The black-and-white charmer doubles as a wistful ode to female friendship, and an agonizing account of being lost in the wilderness of your early 20s. It also features one of the few cinematic examples of Sacramento getting to play itself: During one sequence, Gerwig's character returns home for Christmas, and guides the viewer from our airport to our tree-lined neighborhoods and into our cozy living rooms. The dreamy detour is an early indication of Gerwig's affection for Sacramento—and a pretty good illustration of what makes this place feel like home.