Stream it or skip it?
Raymond and Ray (now on Apple TV+) pairs Ewan McGregor and Ethan Hawke for a dramedy, and if that sounds promising, you’d be absolutely right. Hawke’s revival over the past decade has been diverse and successful (he certainly seems overdue for an Oscar soon, doesn’t he?), and McGregor continues to be serially underrated and a presence. stable in many films. Here they’re led by Rodrigo Garcia, creator of lovably contrived and highly watchable stuff like Albert Nobs and four good days – and like much of his work, Raymond and Ray is not a jewel, nor a failure.
The essential: Raymond (McGregor) and Ray (Hawke) are brothers – correction: half-brothers – and they seem a bit controversial. Damn they were born controversial. They have a dad, Harris, who thought giving them the same name was, I don’t know, funny? Some kind of cruel life lesson? We can only guess now, because the old man is dead, and as death does, it floods the system and brings a lot of buried stuff to the surface. Raymond knocks on Ray’s door to share the news, breaking a few years of estrangement. They’ve been without contact with their father for even longer than that, and you get the feeling they’d be much better off growing up without him. The guy was emotionally and physically abusive to them and their mothers, and he went from woman to woman and religion to religion, and they’re still dealing with the psychological fallout of it all. Is it a leap to say they hate it? Not really.
Raymond wants to go anywhere within a few hundred miles for the funeral, and he wants Ray to come with him. Reluctance mixes with animosity mixes with the need for a little closure – mixed mixed mixed mixed feelings feelings feelings feelings. Ray resists then collapses and packs his .357 revolver and off he goes. You know what they say about introducing a gun in the first act of a movie, right? The dialogue works in a lot of things they already know about each other but not us: they were inseparable as children and their mothers are now, improbably, best friends; they all survived the narcissistic monster. Ray is a job-to-job guy, jazz trumpet player, and seven years sober. Raymond is a boring guy with a boring job who is about to get divorced. 3. Raymond succinctly summarizes the state of their lives: “We come from chaos.
They go everywhere and begin to discover the man their father has become. The funeral home director (Todd Luiso) shares Harris’ wishes for the service: bare pine box, place in their totally bare and open memorial. They visit the attorney about Harris’ estate, which wasn’t much, some money, stuff to keep, stuff to throw away, and oh by the way, his dying wish was that his sons grab shovels and dig the grave themselves. Great. The man is dead and he still fucks with them. And then they go to Harris, where they meet Lucia (Maribel Verdu), who was the man what, concierge, landlady, lover? Yes, yes and yes. She gives them boxes of their dad’s stuff, and Ray has a trumpet from his teenage years that Harris took away and supposedly pawned, and Raymond has a chain of condoms in it. You know what they say about introducing a trumpet in the first act of a movie, right? And you also know what they say about introducing a chain of condoms in the first act of a movie, right?
What movies will this remind you of? : I can’t help but realize that Hawke and Philip Seymour Hoffman made a more compelling brotherly couple in Before the devil knows you’re dead. And McGregor’s work here is reminiscent of his thoughtful leading work in Beginners and Big fish.
Performance to watch: Hawke ultimately has a more serious charisma and, unlike McGregor, is not overwhelmed by the script’s more histrionic material.
Memorable dialogue: The script is full of little humdingers like this one-liner from Raymond: « Why can’t you let the silence speak for itself? »
Sex and skin: A fairly lukewarm scene of precoital groping.
Our opinion : Raise your glass to Garcia for doing adult dramas that are about something, and therefore for fighting the good fight. But the scripts he chooses or writes (he wrote this one) tend to be a little too… writing. And burdened with pseudo-deep artifices and attempts at literary flourishes. Its dramatic messes are too neatly arranged – for example, the crisp and clear assertion that the brothers are very different but very alike, that Ray’s personal restlessness and Raymond’s bland contentment result in the same unhappiness.
Frankly, that’s a lot for a movie, especially when McGregor and Hawke inhabit the characters. But Garcia is piling up revelations about their father that are both small and huge — he was kind to people, he fought cancer without painkillers, he fathered children Ray and Raymond didn’t know. And there’s a doozy of an incredible ubermelodramatic moment at the movie’s emotional climax that inspires a big fat NAH; it’s not a fatal flaw, but it comes dangerously close. The way Garcia executes such drama feels hokey, tin-eared, and inauthentic.
What Raymond and Ray does good is notable, however. Sophie Okonedo casts herself as Harris’ nurse, and her contradictory and empathetic exchanges with Hawke are a highlight. Vondie Curtis-Hall arrives late as Harris’ pastor, a more thoughtful and nuanced wildcard than Garcia plays. (You’ll yearn for more screen time from Okonedo and Curtis-Hall.) And the grassroots dynamic between Hawke and McGregor keeps this business afloat. They elevate the material just enough to make it, yes, pleasantly watchable.
Our call: Low praise for Raymond and Ray, but there’s far worse to do than watch Hawke and McGregor navigate Garcia’s psychological road trip. SPREAD IT, but don’t expect too much.
John Serba is a freelance writer and film critic based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Learn more about his work at johnserbaatlarge.com.