i'm upset

I’ve Had Enough of Hollywood’s Farcical Representation of California Geography

Photo: Paramount Pictures

As you may have recently read, I loved the new Transformers movie, Bumblebee. Granted, it’s not rare for me to love a Transformers movie, but I can’t say I’ve ever walked out of one and thought, What a pure and sweet delight! But this one has action. It’s got heart. It’s got a big yellow robot that’s basically going through its gangly puppy phase of development. But there’s one Megatron-size flaw I can’t shake, one glaringly ridiculous misstep that broke my suspension of disbelief throughout the movie — and somehow, it has nothing to do with the physics of what a giant robot foot landing on pavement would actually do to a road or a sidewalk. No, there’s a bumblebee in my bonnet thanks to the movie’s farcical representation of California geography.

If you haven’t spent much time on the West Coast, please follow me on this asinine journey. Our dear Charlie Watson (Hailee Steinfeld) lives in the San Francisco Bay Area in a fictional town called Brighton Falls. Filming took place around the region, and given the amazing view that we see from Charlie’s family home, which displays the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge in the background with a little island visible, too, we can place her residence somewhere around San Rafael (one of the shooting locations) in Marin County, a.k.a. the North Bay.

Now that we have our bearings, let’s begin with the silly fiction that Brighton Falls is a coastal town, which is how it’s described in the movie. Given the specific bridge you can see from Charlie’s driveway, we know that her house faces the San Francisco Bay. And before you ask: No, you can’t see the Pacific Ocean from that part of Marin because there’s a little mountain and its accompanying hills in the way. Tell me there is a planet called Cybertron with a race of warring robots and I’ll concede there’s no way to prove they don’t exist. Tell me there’s a spot in residential San Rafael where I can see the ocean and the 580 bridge at the same time? You can get the hell out. This makes the location of Charlie’s job, at a Hot Dog on a Stick on the ocean-facing “Brighton Falls Boardwalk,” downright ridiculous, since Brighton Falls does not face the ocean at all.

Of course, Bumblebee is not the first or worst Hollywood offender when it comes to playing fast and loose with the size of California. True Detective season two compressed 400 miles of the state into an area about the size of a cute suburb, sending its stars on road trips that would have required them to slow the Earth’s rotation to complete in such tight spans of time, and Big Little Lies tried to trick us all into believing that Renata Klein was a high-powered business woman who had enough time to be a Silicon Valley titan and constantly accuse kids of bullying to their faces in Monterey.

(Honestly. Even if you’re generous and assume that both Renata and her husband, Gordon, work in San Jose, you’re looking at a merciless 90-minute drive one way from home. If you go further up the peninsula to the other seats of power in tech, places like Palo Alto or Mountain View, your travel only gets worse. There’s no way in hell Renata is suffering that sort of traffic, and a private plane is definitely something she would have talked about having as a working mom trying to do it all. Madeline would have spent half an episode bitching about such a plane! It’s all even more absurd when you realize that they could have just moved the whole show to picturesque Tiburon in Marin County, where the moms could do yoga in the Bay on stand-up paddleboards and Renata could have conveniently worked in San Francisco.)

I cannot abide this flattening of entire regions! California is not a monolith. It does not take the same amount of time for you to pop down to the grocery store as it does to schlep from the southern cities to the Bay Area! And you can’t show me someone standing in a driveway that looks out at East Marin Island but also exists simultaneously at the foot of the Pacific and expect me to sit quietly. Bumblebee is a movie about battle bots and coming to terms with grief. Not about folding space and time! Is this Event Horizon? Are they using the gravity drive to travel? And worse still, if we’re in the darkest timeline where Bumblebee would have us believe that the Santa Cruz Boardwalk (repurposed as the Brighton Falls Boardwalk) — one of the most recognizable stretches of California coast — is within reasonable driving distance of the North Bay, then we’ve gone from geographical ignorance to malice. This is an attack on our common sense!

Here’s why: That commute would take 90 minutes one way in the dead of night with no traffic in a car following the speed limit, and would probably take the duration of the Transformers franchise on Charlie’s busted-ass moped during morning and evening peak travel times. Not to mention, your spirit would be so broken after just two days of making that round-trip loop that you’d have absolutely no energy left to save the Autobots or Earth, and might in fact want to watch the whole planet destroyed by nefarious metal aliens anyway. “I’ll see you in hell!” you’d scream as you watched highway 101 turn to rubble under the weight of a descending Decepticon army.

As if I hadn’t already developed a twitch by the end of the movie trying to discern the why of it all — wondering what would have been so hard about having Charlie work at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, a reasonable drive from her Marin County home, or why they didn’t just put her at a Hot Dog on a Stick in a nameless mall, as it was the 1980s and that was the mall zenith — Bumblebee ends with our heroine saying a tearful good-bye to her robo-buddy in the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge in the Marin Headlands. As they parted ways I thought, Surely, Charlie didn’t submit herself to being stranded on this cliff. Why not just put her on the surface of Mars?!

And yet, that is exactly what she did! In the very next scene we see her approaching the house back in beautiful San Rafael, and let me assure you, that is one long-ass walk! With no alternate means of transportation and clearly no cell phone to call for help, I was left to picture a teary-eyed Charlie setting out on foot, descending the bluff, crossing under the bridge on the pedestrian walkway, surfacing at the lookout point, and strolling wistfully along the extremely busy highway (through a tunnel!) to get home. That or she wandered through a series of trails, back roads, and surface streets until she reached her destination … 15 miles and about five hours later. Call me corny, but I believe too completely in the love Bumblebee had for Charlie to accept that he’d leave her carless and with no way home. My beautiful robot boy would never!

For an industry allegedly based in California, Hollywood has a terrible grasp on how the damn state is put together. I’m mad as hell at this disrespect and I won’t quietly take it anymore. If you’re going to spend $135 million making a movie, the least studios could do is spring for a few paper maps and let me enjoy teens bonding with sentient transforming cars in peace.

Does Anyone in Hollywood Know How Big California Is?