“Raymond & Ray”, which was released on Apple TV+ in last month, merely trudges along its very familiar plot with its two ever-reliable lead performers who deserve better than this disappointing mush. While there are some good moments whenever they share the screen, the overall result is too rote and clichéd as filled with superficial sentimentality, and we are only left with rather hollow impressions when it eventually reaches to its lackluster ending.
Ewan McGregor and Ethan Hawke, who have been admirably steady during last three decades with each own talent and presence, play Raymond and Ray, two estranged stepbrothers who have been quite miserable in their respective lives. While Raymond is about to fail in his third marriage, Ray is a recovering addict who lives alone by himself without much care, and he is not so pleased at all when Raymond suddenly visits him with an unexpected news. Their father, who has been absent in their life for many years, died recently, and Raymond wants Ray to attend their father’s upcoming funeral with him, even though both of them do not like their father much for good reasons.
Because he still remembers how terrible their father was in many ways, Ray refuses to attend the funeral along with Raymond, but Raymond is persistent because he really needs some help from Ray. Besides needing someone else to drive for him instead (He has a little driving license problem, by the way), Raymond is afraid of becoming too emotional at the funeral, and Ray eventually agrees to accompany Raymond while also providing some emotional support for him.
However, not so surprisingly, Raymond and Ray do not get along that well with each other from the beginning. While both of them surely feel hurt as remembering those good and bad moments involved with their father, they often argue with each other during their journey to their father’s funeral, and McGregor and Hawke did a good job of embodying their respective characters’ damaged souls. Here are two man who were hurt and broken in one way or another in their shared past, and Hawke and McGregor ably establish not only their characters but also the long history between them.
I wish the movie would simply trust McGregor and Hawke more and then delve into their characters more, but, alas, it begins to lose its focus when Ray and Raymond eventually arrive at a town where their father lived during his last years. It tries some humor as Raymond and Ray are often perplexed by how his father were regarded well by several people who knew him before his death, but that becomes rather tiresome as it tries that again and again, and we never get to know that well who their father really was.
As a matter of fact, Raymond and Ray’s father feels like more like a plot device especially when his instruction on his own funeral is notified to Ray and Raymond. He requested that Raymond and Ray should bury his dead body for themselves as a part of the funeral ceremony, and that is surely the last thing both Ray and Raymond want to do right now.
Nevertheless, they follow their father’s instruction anyway as wondering what their father really wanted to do via that odd instruction of his, and they also come to spend some time with a few persons who were close to him around the time of his death. There is a Latino woman who turns out to be more than a merely close friend to him, and there is also a local pastor who is certainly ready to lead both Raymond and Ray to reconciliation and forgiveness.
And there is also a female hospital nurse who nursed Ray and Raymond’s father during his final days. Although their accidental encounter was not exactly pleasant, Ray finds himself attracted to this nurse, and she seems to be really interested in getting closer to him when she comes to see the burial of his dead father’s body, though he still has lots of emotional burdens besides his complicated feelings toward his dead father.
All these and other story elements could be handled well enough to engage us, but the screenplay by director/writer Rodrigo García often meanders without generating enough narrative momentum to hold our attention. Simply moving from one predictable moment to another, the story feels more tedious and hollower, and it even does not deliver well a certain expected payoff moment involved with a gun shown during the first act (Remember a term named Chekhov’s gun?).
Furthemore, the movie does not utilize well several good supporting performers surrounding McGregor and Hawke. Maribel Verdú and Sophie Okonedo surely do as much as they can do with their respective supporting roles, but they do not have much to do except functioning as possible love interests for Hawke’s and McGregor’s character, and the same thing can be said about Vondie Curtis-Hall, who manages to acquit himself well despite his woefully underwritten character.
On the whole, “Raymond & Ray” is not a total dud at least thanks to its good main cast, but it is a major letdown compared to García’s much better films such as “Nine Lives” (2005) and “Mother and Child” (2009). While these two films really surprised and moved me, “Raymond & Ray” just bored me without much satisfaction, and I am already ready to move onto whatever I am going to watch next.