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End of the Road

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Tribeca Festival

MOVIE REVIEW

Sacramento (2024)

Michael Angarano boasts a truly impressive resume that includes acting in films by Christopher Nolan, Steven Soderbergh, Cameron Crowe, Thomas Vinterberg, Wes Craven et al., but his own name only registers as vaguely familiar. Probably even lesser known is the fact that he has writing and directing credits under his belt, from 2017’s “Avenues.” For his sophomore directorial outing, “Sacramento,” which premiered at the Tribeca Festival, he has assembled a luminous cast that includes Michael Cera, Kristen Stewart and Maya Erskine, his real-life spouse. His filmmaking oeuvre so far recalls that of Zach Braff, dealing with growing pains of the manchild. And where is Mr. Braff now? Doing T-Mobile commercials.

The film opens with an unmarked prologue showing Ricky (Mr. Angarano) nude sunbathing, and from across the water Tallie (Ms. Erskine) shouts, “Nice dick!” He suggests that they meet in the middle, but she immediately changes her mind after he has already plunged in. When they do get together, they realize they have nothing in common, but they make out anyway. She predicts that if they were to start their own colony, he would bail.

A jarring transition pushes the narrative forward an entire year, where we see Glenn (Mr. Cera), in what at first glance seems a non sequitur, violently shaking a creaky empty baby crib. Meanwhile, Ricky disrupts a grief recovery group at a convalescent home and talks over the facilitator, Dr. Meyer (Rosalind Chao), which prompts her to ask him to leave and suggest that he stay with family or friends for a while. Despite being well-versed in new-agey psychobabble, Ricky is unlicensed and oblivious to his own undiagnosed mental issues.

Ricky hopes to ambush his buddy Glenn by hiding in his backyard, but Glenn already spots him from inside the house. As Glenn explains to his very pregnant wife, Rosie (Ms. Stewart), he’s trying to phase Ricky out of his life. Ricky makes up an excuse and guilt trips Glenn into taking a road trip from Los Angeles to Sacramento, Calif., which Rosie encourages for the sake of Glenn’s own mental health. You see, Glenn has been jittery over his job loss and the impending birth of their child. He’s been independently trying to reach out to others, but no one is there for him except for his toxic old friend.

It’s a somewhat familiar story of a desperate lost soul latching onto an old pal who has clearly moved on with their life. The two give reconnecting a go, leaning heavily into their shared past. But they are also incapable of having a real heart-to-heart so they could mutually support each other through a rough patch.

Ricky’s childish hijinks are of course massively irritating, which some may find comedic and others vexing. To put it unkindly, the guy is a manipulative pathological liar. The fact that this is the role Mr. Angarano chooses to put himself in sometimes makes you wonder if he’s super perceptive about the emotional impairments of cishet millennial men or if that’s simply his avatar. Mr. Angarano at least appears to be sincere, so you’d hate to disparage someone for making a genuine effort in addressing this malady.

The characters uniformly lack depth, despite the very best efforts from the cast to overcompensate. Again, you can’t really tell whether this is a bug or a feature of the script. It’s a given that Ricky and Glenn are both self-absorbed to varying degrees. But if Mr. Angarano and cowriter Chris Smith had invested a bit more into developing these characters – Rosie and Tallie especially – perhaps their personality flaws would seem less of a script issue. The redemption of these pathetic men is very much at the expense of the women. If only the writers had the Bechdel test in mind, perhaps all the characters would have been much richer.

“Sacramento” can potentially resonate with many men, just as “Garden State” struck a chord two decades ago. The cast alone should warrant a theatrical release. It’s very accessible and relatable, albeit with the unlikable characters and their lack of redeeming qualities. It’s ultimately about being direct when you need help, and that people will forgive if you are serious about making amends.

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