The funeral dramedy has been a long mainstay in Hollywood’s rotating template of exploring messy family dynamics. It has also made inroads into Bollywood, and the template is effective when it is used as a starting point for digging deeper into a story. However, in Raymond and Ray, director Rodrigo Garcia does not move an inch away from the established beats, making the film an inconsequential watch.
Half-brothers Raymond (Ewan McGregor) and Ray (Ethan Hawke) are forced to confront the relationship they share with each other, and with their estranged father, after he dies leaving them a peculiar request in his will. When Raymond informs Ray of their father’s death, he asks whether he died “by his own hand?” Only 20 minutes later, the attorney informs them that their father’s last wish was for Raymond and Ray to quite literally dig up his grave… by hand.
A metaphor? A poorly-disguised mockery? However this wish may be interpreted, it is Harris’ final act of abuse as a father to Raymond and Ray (the long list also includes Harris giving both his sons the same name). It is also one of the few attempts the film makes at inserting humour; most other instances are derived from Raymond and Ray constantly clashing against each other.
Raymond and Ray
Director: Rodrigo Garcia
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Ethan Hawke, Maribel Verdú, Sophie Okonedo, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Oscar Nunez, and others
Duration: 105 minutes
Storyline: After half-brothers Raymond and Ray are forced to reunite for their estranged father’s funeral, they are also informed of his last wish; that they dig up his grave
In the predictable dynamic between a tightly-wound son and another one who couldn’t care less, McGregor as Raymond hides behind the veneer of a dutiful child who, despite suffering years of abuse at the hand of his father, moves on to do the “right thing”. Hawke’s Ray openly resents this behaviour and the father who cultivated it. Apart from being a cliched route to take towards writing a pair of siblings, Hawke and McGregor’s impressive performances are put to a greater disadvantage when the writing begins to repeat itself.
Their relationship presents itself as singularly-layered, in that Raymond constantly displays an emotional naivety, then ponders out loud about his feelings for Harris, and Ray responds with thinly-disguised disgust for his father. They do this numerous times; at Ray’s house, while driving to the funeral, and at the cemetery itself. Often this conversation ends with Ray blowing up in anger while also instigating Raymond. However, multiple iterations of the same cycle of dialogues fail to convey any new dimension. It is made abundantly clear that both have shared the suffering of a broken home and a less-than-ideal father. But the writing never seems to want to reach any depth and the result is an interaction that resembles the ones at the water cooler between friendly colleagues.
Garcia also doesn’t explore more creativity or sensitivity in how he chooses to reveal Harris’ abusive tendencies towards Raymond and Ray. Instead, most of what the audience comes to know is through exposition dumps. Despite spanning 1.45 hours, the film feels impatient as both the brothers desperately unburden their feelings over the first women they each find.
Towards the second half of the film, as the brothers shovel deeper into the grave, more skeletons tumble out of their father’s closet. Raymond and Ray not only discover that their father was a gentler, more loved figure towards the end of his life, but they also come across more half-brothers. It almost manages to feel like McGregor stepped into his own version of August: Osage County!
While Garcia manages to tick every box in the funeral dramedy genre (awkward road trip, multiple family blowouts, scandalous secrets, and a macabre ritual at the instruction of the concerned dead), he fails to offer anything new in the film, rendering an identical picture to its predecessors.
Raymond and Ray is now streaming on AppleTV+