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‘Sacramento’ Review: Michael Cera and Kristen Stewart Star in a Slight but Winning Road Comedy

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In Michael Angarano’s understated buddy comedy Sacramento, a flighty man coaxes his estranged friend to road-trip with him from Los Angeles to California’s capital city. The drive is a madcap adventure dotted with interactions that help both men untangle the knots in their friendship and confront fears of the future. 

Ricky (Angarano) and Glenn (Michael Cera) seem more different on the surface. The former is an eccentric nature-lover who aspires to be a counselor. The latter is a fretful company man settled into domesticity with his wife, Rosie (an ace Kristen Stewart). While Ricky makes fleeting connections during backpacking trips through the California forests, Glenn prepares for the birth of his first child by constructing a $400 crib.

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The Bottom Line A slender adventure buoyed by charming moments.

Venue: Tribeca Film Festival (U.S. Narrative Competition)
Cast: Michael Cera, Kristen Stewart, Michael Angarano, Maya Erskine
Director: Michael Angarano
Screenwriter: Chris Smith, Michael Angarano
1 hour 24 minutes

These two men became friends as children, during a swim class in which Ricky almost drowned Glenn. Their relationship has been fraught for years, and Glenn has been trying to “phase” Ricky out of his life: He rarely checks in and doesn’t tell his friend that he’s having a baby. Still, they share history and, whether they like it or not, a kind of emotional avoidance predicated on trepidation about what’s next.

Angarano and Chris Smith’s slight screenplay details the relationship between Ricky and Glenn just enough to keep the narrative moving, but more information, especially about the two men, would have elevated Sacramento. It’s through these anecdotes about the past that a real story — a prickly account of arrested development and the awkwardness of growing apart — emerges out of a collection of otherwise engaging enough conversations and solid comedic bits. 

The film opens with glimpses of Glenn’s struggles with debilitating anxiety and a kind of blinding rage. After discovering an annoying squeak with the expensive crib, Glenn rattles the wooden structure until it breaks. Later, he struggles to recount the incident to Rosie, claiming to have blacked out. Sacramento gestures at Glenn’s condition throughout — sometimes for laughs — but its severity remains vague. Nevertheless, Cera gives a compelling performance as a man on the brink of a mental breakdown. He conveys both physical and less tangible manifestations of Glenn’s anxiety — shaking hands, circular thinking and rumination — that help us better understand the depth of the character’s struggles. 

Ricky is a less volatile figure, but still vaguely sketched. While he might be more in tune with his emotions, he’s unreliable. An early glimpse into his life takes place a year before Sacramento’s main timeline. While on a camping trip, Ricky meets Tallie (Maya Erskine) and the two begin a woodsy romance. Ricky proclaims boldly that they should run away and build a commune. Tallie stops him: That future could never exist, because Ricky would surely bail. 

The truth of her statement becomes clearer as Ricky and Glenn drive north. In order to get Glenn on board with the trip, Ricky tells his reluctant friend that his father died a month ago and he wants to fulfill the old man’s dying wish by spreading his ashes in the city. Even though the two are estranged, Glenn concedes.

The guilt trip morphs into a more emotionally complicated (and antic-filled) journey the closer they get to Sacramento. A few energetic scenes in the car reveal just how close Ricky and Glenn once were. The standout moments in Sacramento highlight behavioral and conversational quirks of old friendships, in scenes that recall the drollness of Joanna Arnow’s recent The Feeling That the Time for Doing Something Has Passed

Ricky and Glenn’s pit stops — a one-night episode involving two women, a diner break turned impounded-car fiasco — inch them closer to uncovering uncomfortable realities about their friendship and getting older. Their talks on the road, at the bar or sitting across from each other at breakfast are the heart of Sacramento, which explores the minor tragedies of aging. When Glenn tells Ricky he’s got different priorities, the sentiment is weighted with insecurity and the familiar terror of realizing that years do really move more quickly than days.

So it’s disappointing when Sacramento cuts away too quickly from these scenes, padding its narrative with a few too many repetitive and distracting hijinks instead of burrowing into the difficulties between Glenn and Ricky. After all, Sacramento is, at its best, about embracing the vulnerable insights that emerge from these encounters.

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