Raymond and Ray
- Director: Rodrigo García
- Writer: Rodrigo García
- Starring: Ewan McGregor, Ethan Hawke, Maribel Verdú, Sophie Okonedo
Remember how it felt the first time you watched The Hangover? It was the type of comedy where anything was possible, where the screenwriter was free to make up whatever kooky shenanigans they could think of simply because the action had unfolded off-screen. Raymond and Ray feels like the dramatic equivalent of that kind of storytelling, a free-for-all experiment where everyone simply talks about someone we never actually meet first-hand. It feels like an acting exercise, and an empty one at that, where its primary cast mostly makes it out unscathed.
The film tells the story of Raymond (Ewan McGregor) and Ray (Ethan Hawke), two half-brothers whose father has recently died, and whose funeral they have to plan. It’s clear early on when Raymond arrives at Ray’s cabin that they haven’t seen or spoken to each other in quite some time, but they share a commonality in their mutual disrespect for their father, who they simply refer to as Harris. The early-goings mostly consist of reminiscences about their upbringing and Harris’s failures as a father, a spouse, and a human being in general. Raymond gripes about his physically abusive tendencies, and Ray harps on his emotional abuse.
Things don’t get much better when they get to the funeral home and begin making arrangements, as the funeral director begins to reveal Harris’s increasingly ridiculous final wishes. Apparently Harris was a man of worldly experiences, converting to Judaism late in life, and a number of other quasi-religious beliefs. One last wish is to have all of his offspring (we meet more later in the film, but none are really worth mentioning) dig his own grave. The metaphor is painfully strained.
The better parts of the film are when we learn more about who Raymond and Ray have become. Raymond is a sad-sack at the water treatment facility in Cincinnati on the tail end of his third marriage, and he’s recently been convicted of a DUI. If you didn’t get the implication heavily enough that he’s a directionless nobody, he also wears beige boxers. McGregor feels like perfect casting here, as he’s at his best when portraying exasperated loners, though this likely won’t go down as one of his best performances. His best scenes are with Lucia (Maribel Verdú), Harris’s former lover and mother to another of his sons, as they begin a kind of romance of their own. Hawke again doesn’t play against type here, since Ray is a free-wheeling spirit who has no life goals to speak of. The film’s best scene is between Ray and Harris’s pastor at the cemetery, as they wonder how such a difficult person could ever find peace, spiritual or otherwise.
“He was a racist who liked everyone. He ate ten thousand meals and slept ten thousand nights with his dreams and his nightmares. He had one hundred jobs and no money in the world,” says Lucia as she comforts Raymond near the end of the film. We, as humans, contain multitudes, often conflicting with one another. This is an admirable way to structure a film, and the impact that generational trauma can have on a new generation is an admirable way to approach that structure. At least Jeff Beal’s jazzy score plays into the film’s loose structure nicely. But writer/director Rodrigo García commits too hard to telling and not showing. I don’t know if a flashback or two could have improved the end result, but an endless stream of exposition that doesn’t lead to a satisfying conclusion (without spoiling anything, the film doesn’t so much end; rather, it just stops) isn’t an enjoyable way to spend 106 minutes. At least Raymond and Ray shows a minor improvement over García’s previous film, the putridly shallow after-school special/Oscar nominee Four Good Days.
Raymond and Ray is available to stream on Apple TV+ now.
- None. Apple will have higher priorities this Oscar season, with the forthcoming Causeway and, to some extent, Emancipation.