Imagine a domineering father so determined to mess with the heads of his two sons that he gives them both the same name. The ghost of such a father haunts Rodrigo García’s “Raymond & Ray,” a tired, mellow road trip drama that does the opposite of taking the path less traveled. Starring Ethan Hawke and Ewan McGregor, who portray the two Rays, may well draw some crowds once this Apple TV+ title hits its streaming home. But by following the emotionally messy characters of the two protagonists as they half-heartedly embark on a mission to reconcile with their past, the film lacks anything original to offer.
You’ll recognize the stock story as soon as Raymond (McGregor) pulls into Ray’s driveway on a stormy night and adamantly announces to his polar opposite half-brother (Hawke), whom he hasn’t seen in years, “Our father is dead.” Yes, there will indeed be past scores to settle, secrets that will pour out and shadows of familial grief that will surface against the odds as the brothers learn to accept their deceased parent, a man who is both miserable offensive as charismatic is unknowable.If, as with his 2020 addiction drama ‘Four Good Days’, García were a little more alive in stewing these familiar elements, or at least give us a reason or two to empathize with these brothers on a melancholy voyage of discovery, instead “Raymond & Ray” is curiously alienating despite the two A-listers in the driver’s seat, some decent chuckles to spare and a handsome, cinematic finish courtesy of DP Igor Jadue-Lillo.
At first glance, Raymond is the more responsible kind: clean-shaven, neatly presented and dutiful, giving the impression of someone with a functional adult life. Ray, on the other hand, is a free spirit with a standard checklist of traits you’d expect of that type: a confused former jazz musician, a recovering addict (sober for years now), and a perpetual ladies’ man, doing odd jobs around here. and there, unable to keep any of them. But not all is as it seems, and despite his composite image, Raymond is in a messy situation. A minor DUI recently cost him his driver’s license, and in the midst of a divorce, his third wife refuses to give him a ride to the funeral. So he asks a reluctant Ray to join him in burying their father and reconnecting during an overnight journey, after their prolonged estrangement.
Unsurprisingly, the journey yields both therapeutic conversations and they exchange memories of a man whose approval and support they desperately sought, but never reached. Most of all, Ray remembers how judgmental the old man was about his music, poisoning his confidence with painful jabs that still haunt him. The squeezed Raymond suffers under the weight of something even more terrifying: the reveal is an unforeseen shock, but has little impact, perhaps because we care so little about the film’s characters, dead or alive. Hawke is without a doubt the most attractive presence here, easing organically into Ray’s scruffy personality, aware of his attraction to a parade of women who don’t stop looking at him. While Raymond’s contrasting discomfort is clearly inherent in his design—he’s the uptight, after all—the actor seems too timid and hesitant all the time, feeling just as out of place as Jeff Beal’s generally jazzy film score.
Fortunately, the proceedings brighten up a bit once the two Rays reach the funeral parlor, with additional cast members joining the circus. There’s an entertaining undertaker who worries about an uncertain balance for the embalming of his late client, a friendly vicar (played wonderfully by Vondie Curtis Hall), and most importantly, an influential bunch of women from the old man’s past. One is his nurse Kiera (a graceful Sophie Okonedo), who catches Ray’s attention. The other is the exquisite Maribel Verdú (“Y tu Mama También”), who brightens up the whole package in the role of Dad’s ex-lover Lucia.
While Kiera and Lucia share their own pleasant tales of the late man that are vastly different from those of his sons, it’s pretty irritating how much these women resemble manic pixie dream characters. Indeed, this commonly written pair only seems to exist to help Raymond and Ray make peace with the past — more like ideals on paper than fully realized characters. Still, Okonedo and especially Verdú make the most of their thankless roles with humor and style, as the two Rays dig their father’s grave—literally, as this is just one of the comically specific, power-abusing requests made by the old man in his will.
There is the slightest hint of wisdom and even joy in the final act of “Raymond & Ray”, which makes you wonder how well we really know our parents – a question most older people ask themselves as time is ticking. towards the inevitable. But García’s film is too mundane to matter in the end, on his little foray into nothing special.