Raymond and Ray, while patiently contemplative, plays it too safe as a dramedy of life’s joys and sorrows.
The story of estranged siblings in search of a lost or deceased parent who gradually reunite along the way should be very familiar to most viewers, for it’s a narrative which, through its specific ups and downs or twists and turns, evidently leads its protagonists onto a newfound understanding of the present and a rekindled relationship with the past. Rodrigo Garcia’s Raymond & Ray, going by its premise, is one such story, portraying Ewan McGregor and Ethan Hawke as the same-name, polar-opposite half-brothers for whom the death of their unfriendly, distant and more-or-less abusive father, Harris, serves to bring them together. This reunion is short-lived; it’s before they eventually discover more about their father’s other failed affairs, and their other siblings, and the fact that their old man’s mischievous final wish was for the two brothers to dig his grave for the burial. Thus, if Raymond & Ray embarks on a calm two-for-the-road journey nearly for the first half, the film soon turns towards a more indiscriminate bunch of casual encounters — most notably with Harris’ lover, Lucia (Maribel Verdú), his nurse Kiera (Sophie Okonedo), and a whisky-boozing, dandy reverend (Vondie Curtis Hall) who unlike the lead characters respected the old man — playing out as a soothing celebration of life before the latter’s more absurd situations and hidden emotions pour out.
Through an unhurried script, tranquil momentum (encapsulated best by the jazzy music score alongside Igor Jadue-Lillo’s crystalline cinematography, imbuing the film with gentle humor), and — of course — McGregor and Hawke’s natural rapport, Raymond & Ray serves as a patiently contemplative character study; its allegorical connotations, on burying a haunting past and opening a new chapter in the book of life, seem otherwise evident. Raymond, thanks to courting Lucia, comes to terms with his failed marriage while Ray, thanks to finding Kiera, rediscovers his passion as a trumpet player from the wreckage of a playboy, heroin-fuelled past. The problem, however, is that Garcia almost never leaves his thematic and stylistic comfort zones; if Raymond & Ray comes off as a moderate, uneventful dramedy of joys and sorrows, heartbreaks and romances, it’s because he doesn’t envision much more for it beyond its pre-packaged and well-calibrated emotional tropes. Perhaps one cannot agree more with Raymond when, in a scene early on, he tells his brother, “I like things the way I like them. Steady. Maybe that makes me boring or lazy.” Even if one wouldn’t necessarily fault the film for being boring or lazy, it’s still a slight disappointment that the general air within is one of playing it safe, reminiscing harmlessly over the bitter and the sweet.
You can currently stream Rodrigo Garcia’s Raymond and Ray on Apple TV+.