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‘Sacramento’ review: An angsty millennial bro trip that usually works

Michael Angarano and Michael Cera bring an almost identical comedic energy Sacramento, an angsty road trip focused on millennial parenting. While that’s a knock on the film at times (some of the jokes are repetitive and flatly delivered), the film proves quite adept at capturing hard-to-express emotions once it gets to its destination.

While the film arguably does a disservice to its female characters (and the great actresses who play them, including and especially Kristen Stewart), its unpacking of modern masculinity and its changing priorities is often good. The two Michaels play former best friends who have long grown apart, but end up on a spontaneous journey together, driven by grief and the anxieties of fatherhood.

It’s a light-hearted slice of life and circle-of-life comedy that might take too many detours for its own good. But once it gets back on track, it turns into an emotional blow.

What’s Sacramento about?

In his short romantic prologue, Sacramento introduces us to Rickey (Angarano), who meets and falls in love with a woman named Tallie (Maya Erskine) on a rural hiking trail. This light-hearted introduction sets the tone of the film, not only through the fun, flirty jokes, but also through the direct contrast; the timeline jumps forward a year and sees Rickey in trouble.

Now attending (and grossly overtaking) group therapy sessions at a convalescent home, Rickey finds himself in a much lonelier and more troubled place in his life, for reasons yet to be revealed. Meanwhile, his old friend Glenn (Cera) is an expectant father, but his unresolved anger issues and looming unemployment worry his responsible, understanding and extremely pregnant wife Rosie (Stewart).

When Rickey shows up at Glenn’s door hoping to reconnect, Glenn’s reluctant lunch outing with him turns into an impromptu, ill-advised road trip from LA to Sacramento. Both men need to get away for different reasons, and they sense each other’s desperation for help and human connection. However, neither wants to face this fact – about each other, or about themselves.

Their relationship, which starts off tense, only becomes more rocky as the journey progresses, and they refuse to be honest about their problems, though they do experience genuine moments of joy along the way. Former wrestler AJ Mendez (aka AJ Lee of WWE) has a brief but sweet appearance as a woman Rickey meets at a bar; her own story leads both men to think more deeply about parenthood, where they are in their lives and where they hope to be. That Mendez also plays a gym owner also comes in handy, if only to place both skinny leads among heavy equipment and a boxing ring in a way that playfully challenges their sense of masculinity.

Sacramento is about what millennial men have learned and forgotten.

While Rickey and Glenn’s verbal banter goes around in circles (both Michaels tend to speak with the same kind of sarcasm), their boyish energy makes for funny reflections on men in arrested development, no pun intended.

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A hallmark of the typical American comedy is men who refuse to grow up, but in Sacramentothe main characters seem emotionally incapable of growing up, even though they may want to. While they have all turned their backs on the sullen and toxic views of masculinity that have long been outdated, they haven’t quite figured out how to replace this traditional paradigm with something new.

For Rickey, this results in self-will that appears carefree, but is actually steeped in fear and self-loathing. For Glenn, control over his home and professional life is crucial to feeling useful, but this continually eludes him and sends him into rage-fueled blackouts. He doesn’t really hurt anyone – perhaps the film is too neat and hesitant in that regard; it doesn’t make him too unlikable, but it’s a recurring problem that he refuses to face.

Beginning with Rickey’s scene at the convalescent home, the language of therapy continually rears its ugly head, though both characters rarely engage with its meaning. This also leads to a fundamental disconnect when it comes to millennial men: a familiarity with the language of therapy, but a lack of ability to access its emotional tools. Both Rickey and Glenn feel stuck in a helpless self-help cycle, where they may intellectualize their emotional problems but have no idea how to actually deal with them.

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It’s an astute revelation of a very specific modern experience, and Angarano’s unobtrusive filmmaking allows each actor to take control of the frame and make his characters endearing. But in a bitter irony, centering this modern form of masculinity also comes at the expense of the film’s female characters.

Sacramento‘s women deserve a bigger spotlight.

Screen time isn’t necessarily an indicator of emotional importance, but Stewart’s role feels particularly unfortunate, despite the tremendous effort she puts into portraying Rosie as an endearing, patient wife and mother-to-be. Part of Sacramento‘s thesis is the way men’s problems consume their worldview to the point where they ignore or hurt the women in their lives, but the film doesn’t have enough dramatic dexterity to frame that pain in personal terms.

Rickey’s relationship with his father and Glenn’s with his soon-to-be son take center stage, unraveling each man’s psyche to the point where their behavior bothers (at best) and harms (at worst) the women around them . However, this damage is part of the comedic framework of the film’s events, and absorbing it purely because comedy requires detaching yourself from the lives of the film’s female supporting cast. The moment you empathize with any woman in the film, the comedic situations become absolutely nightmarish to even consider.

From another point of view, Sacramento could be a horror movie about the way men lash out and how women end up in their crosshairs, intentionally or not, but the film pulls back as soon as this opportunity presents itself. However, there’s only so much that can avoid the inevitable, leading to a disjointed climax in which Glenn’s problems emerge in terrifying ways that the film presents as just another humorous “oopsie.”

Sacramento, ends up essentially being an accidentally striking embodiment of the blinders men put on when dealing with their own issues, failing to recognize the damage they cause, and the burden it can place on the women they care for. In some ways, it’s a valuable cautionary tale.

Sacramento was reviewed at the Tribeca Film Festival.