‘Sacramento’ review: An anxious millennial bro trip that mostly works


Michael Angarano and Michael Cera bring a near-identical comic energy to Sacramento, an anxious road trip focused on millennial parenthood. While that’s a strike against the movie at times — some of its gags are rendered repetitive and flat — it ends up quite adept at capturing difficult-to-express emotions once it gets where it’s going. 

While the film arguably does a disservice to its female characters (and the stellar actresses playing them, including and especially Kristen Stewart), its unpacking of modern masculinity and its shifting priorities is often on point. The two Michaels play former best friends who’ve long drifted apart, but end up together on an spontaneous journey driven by grief and the anxieties of fatherhood.

It’s a breezy 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 transforms into an emotional gut-punch.

What is Sacramento about?

In its brief 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 breezy introduction sets the movie’s tone, not only through its fun, flirtatious jabs but through immediate contrast; the timeline skips forward a year, finding Rickey in dire straits.

Now attending (and rudely overtaking) group therapy sessions at a convalescent home, Rickey is in a much lonelier and more troubled place in his life, for reasons yet to be revealed. Meanwhile, his old pal Glenn (Cera) is a father-to-be, but his unresolved anger issues and impending 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 various reasons, and they sense each other’s desperation for help and human connection. However, neither wants to confront this fact — about each other, or about themselves.

Their relationship, which starts out strained, only grows more rocky as the trip continues, and they refuse to be honest about their problems, though they do find genuine moments of joy along the way. Former wrestler AJ Mendez (a.k.a. WWE‘s AJ Lee) has a brief but fun appearance as a woman Rickey meets at a bar; her own story leads both men to reflect more deeply on 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 scrawny leads amongst heavy equipment and a boxing ring in ways that playfully challenge their sense of masculinity.

Sacramento is about what millennial men have learned and forgotten.  

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

A hallmark of the typical American comedy is men who refuse to grow up, but in Sacramento, the lead characters don’t seem emotionally capable of maturing, even though they might want to. While they’ve each turned their backs on gruff and toxic notions of manhood that have long become outdated, they haven’t quite figured out how to replace this traditional paradigm with anything new.

For Rickey, this results in waywardness that seems carefree but is actually steeped in fear and self-loathing. For Glenn, control of his domestic and professional life is paramount to feeling useful, but this constantly slips from his grasp and sends him into rage-fueled blackouts. He doesn’t exactly 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 he refuses to confront.

Starting with Rickey’s scene at the convalescent home, the language of therapy constantly rears its head, though both characters rarely engage with its meaning. This also gets at 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 helpless self-help loops, where they can intellectualize their emotional issues but have no idea how to actually deal with them.

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

Sacramento‘s women deserve a larger spotlight.  

Screen time isn’t necessarily an indicator of emotional importance, but Stewart’s role feels particularly hapless, despite the immense effort she puts into crafting Rosie as a put-upon, patient wife and mother-to-be. Part of Sacramento‘s thesis is the way men’s problems swallow up their worldview to the point of ignoring or hurting the women in their lives, but the movie doesn’t have enough dramatic dexterity to frame that hurt in personal terms.

Rickey’s relationship with his father and Glenn’s with his son-to-be take center stage, unraveling each man’s psyche to the point that their behavior inconveniences (at best) and harms (at worst) the women around them. However, this harm ends up part and parcel of the movie’s comedic framing of events, and absorbing purely it as comedy requires disengaging from the lives of the movie’s female supporting cast. The moment one empathizes with any woman in the film, its comedic situations become absolutely nightmarish to even consider.

From a different point of view, Sacramento could be a horror movie about the way men lash out and how women are, intentionally or otherwise, caught in their crosshairs, but the film pulls back the moment this possibility arises. However, there’s only so much it can avoid the inevitable, leading to a disconnected climax where Glenn’s issues come to the fore in terrifying ways that the movie frames as just another humorous “oopsie.”

Sacramento, in effect, ends up as an accidentally striking embodiment of the blinders men put on when dealing with their own shit, which prevents them from recognizing the harm they cause, and the burden it can place on the women they care for. One way or another, it’s a worthwhile cautionary tale.  

Sacramento was reviewed out of the Tribeca Film Festival.

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