Two of my favorite working actors teaming up in an off-beat family dramedy? That’s too much for me to pass up on. And wouldn’t you know it, “Raymond & Ray” turns out to be right up my alley. It’s the kind of slice-of-life movie I’m often drawn to. It doesn’t strive to be innovative, nor does it pretend to be something momentous. It’s a simple and grounded look at the human condition through the experiences of two well-rooted characters. It’s tight in scope and honest with its emotions, but it also finds time for levity which is welcomed considering death is a key component.
Written and directed by Rodrigo García, “Raymond and Ray” features a story that’s a bit warped and even a little zany. Yet it always has its feet planted in reality. It follows two half-brothers. Both are very different people who have lived very different lives. Yet they do have one thing in common – they both detest their father. And that shared hatred has only driven them apart. Not because of any disdain for each other (they were actually inseparable as kids). But because being together only brings back the memories of the neglect and abuse they experienced.
Ewan McGregor plays Raymond, an straight-laced stiff with two divorces behind him who’s now separated from his third wife. Ethan Hawke plays Ray, a recovering heroin addict who once aspired to be a trumpet player but gave it (and everything else) up after his wife died of cancer. Both are damaged people whose lives never panned out they way they hoped. And they sought answers in places that only led to more problems.
The movie opens with Raymond arriving at Ray’s house to inform him that their father has died. It’s the first time the two have seen each other in years and even longer since either had seen their estranged father. Ray isn’t especially moved by the news, but he is surprised to learn that their father’s dying wish was that his sons attend his funeral. Ray says to brush it off. After all, the old man’s dead; he won’t know. But Raymond wants them to go (plus he recently lost his drivers license after a DWI so he needs a ride). Ray reluctantly agrees, and the two load up and make a trip to Richmond.
After arriving, Raymond and Ray discover that their late father’s last wishes didn’t end at attending his funeral. He also left word that his boys were to dig his grave and cover it up (their father was able to get the cemetery’s consent through a bogus religious freedom request – a funny gag that pops up several times). While Raymond sees it as their duty, Ray quickly begins to lose patience. Was this really a heartfelt wish of their dead dad or was he heartlessly screwing with them from beyond the grave?
From the very start, the story structure of “Raymond & Ray” is pretty obvious. There will be plenty of revelations along the way, both for the two half-brothers and the audience. These reveals come through their father’s various acquaintances who describe a much different man than Raymond and Ray experienced. Among them are their father’s attorney (Oscar Nunez), his former lover (Maribel Verdú), his pastor (Vondie Curtis-Hall), and his nurse (Sophie Okonedo). Raymond and Ray begin to discover who their father became in recent years. But it doesn’t erase who he was in the past, and those old wounds prove to be deep and painful.
While Garcia gives us plenty of great character moments and some genuinely good laughs, the story doesn’t fully stick its ending. Obviously I won’t spoil it, but let’s just say one lead character ends in a more believable place than the other. But for the most part, “Raymond & Ray” has all the heart and quirkiness it needs to work well as a dysfunctional family drama and a subtle black comedy. And it doesn’t hurt to have talent the caliber of McGregor and Hawke, two savvy seasoned actors who keep this oddball tale on a human level. “Raymond & Ray” premieres October 21st on Apple TV+.