Traveling down the long lineage of films about children coming to terms with their neglectful father, Raymond & Ray joins the urn. R&R is among the many pictures about troubling parents with no discernible value to stand out among the others. Some moments of manic levity deliver big laughs, but they’re few and far between the slog of a narrative.
Raymond (Ewan McGregor) has lost his father, Harris (Tom Bower). To honor the old man’s wishes, Raymond pays a visit to his brother Ray (Ethan Hawke) to set up the burial arrangements. Before his passing, Harris left behind a series of bizarre requests for his funeral. How strange, might you ask? Try requesting to be buried in the nude as an example. Even in death, Harris had to be the center of attention. A clear indicator that Raymond and Ray‘s father didn’t care about them is in their very names. Providing both sons with the same name shows an evident lack of effort when naming your child comes as a second thought. By leaving his mark of neglect behind, Raymond and Ray have difficulty finding peace as adults.
One son comes from a failed marriage, while the other dissolves into a life of drugs after his wife passes. Both brothers don’t get along. Often their interactions end in shouting arguments and physical confrontations.
Although sharing the same name, both brothers are complete opposites. Raymond is a quiet man living a humble life with a comfortable roof over his head and a 9-5 job that keeps the bills up to date. Ray is a former heroin addict who lives on table scraps, and tries to pick up every girl he meets.
For his final will, Haris asks his children to bury him personally. By throwing dirt on dad, perhaps both sons can leave the past underground. By confronting the past, R&R have to confront their demons. Along the road trip to the cemetery, the brothers run into people who knew their father in an entirely different context.
Luca (Maribel Verdú) recalls Haris as a charismatic, kind man. Ray Sr. became Luca’s lover and the last woman who got to know him. That is outside of his nurse, Kiera (Sophie Okonedo). Luca knew Haris’ lustful side; Kiera was familiar with his vulnerability. Through many strangers’ accounts, Raymond and Ray get to know they learn about a man who either manipulated a community or was a reformed man. If what the locals say is true, then both men must think of their father as a man instead of a monster.
Raymond & Ray deals with trauma with a small degree of absurdist humor. When not delivering on laughs, the film delivers the snoozes with an extremely familiar plot without much to offer. The movie wants to say that children don’t have to be like their parents by repeating their behavior, yet unfortunately, they manage to do so. Partially it’s because our parent’s genes are in us; the other is we try so hard to evade an unavoidable destiny that we stumble our way down into it. Where R&R falters is its structure which plays like a stageplay. Writer/Director Rodrigo Garcia is accustomed to long, drawn-out dialogue that relies more on character interaction than visual storytelling. That style works remarkably well for works like In Treatment, given the entirely dramatic, nuanced take on psychoanalysis. Raymond & Ray feels like a Steppenwolf play mixed with Vaudeville.
Neither categories excel, as both the comedic and dramatic fight each other for the spotlight, with neither coming out on top. Despite some small moments of gut-busting laughter, Raymond & Ray is more hollow than layered in its final delivery. Rodrigo Garcia has an interesting idea. It’s the story of two men learning about the man they didn’t know their father could be. But I’ve seen this story before, and it’s never been quite effective. Raymond & Ray isn’t any different. What could save its serviceable script is a phenomenal cast. Here the cast is only just acceptable. Not fantastic, just okay. Ethan Hawke plays a cynical version of his deadbeat dad character from Boyhood, complete with a shirtless while consuming alcohol introduction. Ewan McGregor is a fascinating actor where he’s a stupendous Obi-Wan Kenobi, but to this day struggles with an American accent. Many times in this film, along with his filmography, there are certain words McGreger can’t quite land without a bit of the Scottsman accent sneaking through.
When R&R finishes, you may find yourself close to dozing off since most of the running time is spent digging a grave in a cemetery which gets old fast. How fast the gravedigging gets stale may vary based on the viewer, but it can be as exciting as a wake. And I usually like boring movies.
Raymond and Ray was viewed in conjunction with The Chicago International Film Festival. It will be made available on Apple TV+ October 21