written by Michael Rechtshaffen, Variety
When watching Ewan McGregor and Ethan Hawke in Raymond & Ray, so comfortably and authentically playing off each other as a pair of half-brothers who have been emotionally messed up by their late father, it’s almost impossible to believe they’ve never worked together before, let alone aren’t related in some way.
They have Rodrigo Garcia to thank for the introduction, and they in turn have repaid the filmmaker known for his portraits of complex women in films like Nine Lives and Albert Nobbs with a winning delve into contemporary masculinity and all its quirks that is as tenderly observed as it is laugh-out-loud funny. Viewers should find plenty to enjoy, not to mention to identify with, when the Apple original film, which had its debut at TIFF, arrives October 21 on the streamer as well as in select theaters.
The sins of the father are readily manifested in the damaged goods that are McGregor’s Raymond and Hawke’s Ray (they were actually both named Raymond by their abusive dad, Harris, in order to mess with them), who reunite after significant time apart to attend their old man’s funeral.
In some ways the Felix to Ray’s Oscar, Raymond has a cautious, dutiful, button-down reserve that barely contains the frustration and sense of failure bubbling to the surface after two divorces and a separation. Melancholic Ray, meanwhile, a recovering heroin addict and failed trumpet player whose bad boy vulnerability is catnip to virtually every woman he meets, manages to set aside the initial bickering and find common ground in their shared desire to see their father buried beneath it, which would hopefully give them some much-needed closure.
But when they arrive at the funeral home, they begin to realize the person they thought they knew was regarded as a remarkable man by others, especially the spirited Lucia (played to irresistible perfection by Spain’s Maribel Verdu), who was their dad’s final fling, and mother of the little brother they never knew they had. Still more siblings come out of the woodwork over at the cemetery, where Harris’ last wish was for his sons to dig his grave (among other bizarre stipulations) and where things unsurprisingly reach an amusingly absurd peak, before setting the stage for some necessary healing.
Paying homage, in part, to old-school ’70s buddy films, Garcia’s nicely calibrated, life-mirroring tragicomic tapestry of a script and unhurried direction allow the performances plenty of breathing room. In addition to McGregor, Hawke (who is also given a chance to show off the trumpet-handling skills he acquired in order to play Chet Baker in Born To Be Blue), and the vivacious Verdu, the rest of the ensemble — including a soulful Sophie Okonedo as their dad’s former nurse and Vondie Curtis Hall as his bemused “spiritual guide,” Rev. Red West — each are given their time to shine.
There’s a prevailing naturalism in the production’s Richmond, Virginia, locations, richly captured by cinematographer Igor Jadue-Lillo, while composer Jeff Beal accentuates the melancholy with a spare, moody jazz trumpet score. Michael Ruscio, ACE edited the picture.
While the film struggles a bit to come up with an equally fluid exit strategy, attempting to provide both Raymond and Ray with a potential second act courtesy of Verdu and Okonedo, respectively, Garcia’s latest examination of the human condition nevertheless more than succeeds in putting the fun back in dysfunctional.