Half-brothers Raymond (Ewan McGregor) and Ray (Ethan Hawke) have one thing in common: They hate their father. The no-good son of a bitch made life hell for them and their mothers, and while they don’t have much else in common, that familial tie will always bind them together. Which is good, because their father has just died, and his dying wish was for his sons to dig his grave and bury him in it together. And wouldn’t you know it, everyone they meet on their way to do so – his nurse (Sophie Okonedo), his priest (Vondie Curtis-Hall), his lover (Maribel Verdú), even the proprietor of the funeral home – have glowing things to say about the man, things that contradict the image that Raymond and Ray had of him in their heads. If such a man as they knew was capable of change, does that mean they are, too?
Rodrigo García’s Raymond & Ray, a tragicomic exploration of man’s capacity for change, may be small in scope, but it’s big in feeling. The death of a parent is a confusing, tumultuous moment, especially when you didn’t have a great relationship with them. As they learn more about the man their father became in the years since they knew him, both Raymond and Ray go on a journey of reconciling their relationships with him while learning more about themselves at the same time. It’s a journey that asks a lot of the performers, and both Hawke and McGregor do fine work in charting their characters’ respective journeys. Hawke gets the more internal character, and goes as deep as we are accustomed to seeing from him, but does so with a lighter touch than usual. McGregor gets saddled with the film’s most over the top moment and while no one could make it work entirely, he comes as close as is humanly possible to doing so, in part because he does the work to have the performance build to that moment. The two actors have wonderful chemistry together, believable as half-brothers who grew up together but have since grown apart, largely because they’re very different people. The performances that really make the film sing, though, are from the women. Verdú’s warmly no-nonsense Lucia is a delightful inversion of the “spicy Latina” trope, a down-to-earth woman who knows exactly what she wants and gets it not by using her body or feminine wiles, but by calmly asserting her power; she doesn’t need to bend you to her will, because you’ll do that on your own. Okonedo is perfectly prickly, a great foil for Hawke’s looseness. Both actresses resist the temptation to make their characters feel like the types they seem to be on the page, gifting them with a complex inner life that adds interest to every scene in which they appear.
The big surprise of Raymond & Ray is that, while García’s direction is low-key to the point of being anonymous, his screenplay is very funny. Shockingly so for a film about death. García understands the need for the release valve of laughter in moments of emotional upheaval, and the laughs throughout the film temper what would otherwise be grating in its sentimentality. Some of it is very dark gallows humor, but mostly the film’s laughs come from embracing the absurdity of the situation for these characters. It could be moving or distressing for Raymond and Ray to learn what they learn about their father, but Hawke and McGregor play it with such a perfect deadpan sensibility that it becomes funny instead. With this humor, Jeff Beal’s gently shuffling score, and its endearing ensemble, the film ends up being incredibly charming. Especially in the context of the lineup of the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival, where it premiered, it is the definition of a hidden gem: A film that many may overlook, but one that will warm the hearts of those who don’t.
This review is from the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival. Apple Original Films will release Raymond & Ray in theaters in October and on AppleTV+ on October 21.