Producers: Alfonso Cuarón, Bonnie Curtis, Julie Lynn Director: Rodrigo García Screenplay: Rodrigo García Cast: Ethan Hawke, Ewan McGregor, Maribel Verdú, Vondie Curtis Hall, Sophie Okonedo, Maxim Swinton, Chris Silcox, Chris Grabher, Oscar Nuñez, Todd Louiso and Tom Bower Distributor: Apple+
Rodrigo García takes us on a trip to Quirkyville, here identified as Raleigh, Virginia, in “Raymond & Ray,” a dramedy about brotherhood and redemption that starts out interesting but grows progressively more irritating as it proceeds.
It begins with the sudden visit of Raymond (Ewan McGregor), a seemingly level-headed, low-key, vaguely dull guy, to his rougher, untidy brother Ray (Ethan Hawke) in his messy cabin. He’s come to inform Ray that their nasty father Harris (Tom Bower), from whom both have long been estranged, has died, and that the old man requested them to come to his funeral. Ray, a recovering addict who’s given up working as a jazz trumpeter, is reluctant to go, but Raymond pleads with him, explaining that he’s lost his driver’s license—the first sign that he’s fallen on difficult times both personally and professionally.
So they’re off, getting to know one another again on the road. These sequences have a slightly offbeat quality, sort of like a watered-down Sam Shepard brother duet, but if they’re hardly exceptional they are elevated somewhat by the actors, who play off one another skillfully as they reveal facets of their past feelings and present personas.
After their arrival in Raleigh, however, everything descents into a quiet riot of eccentricity. Harris’ voluble lawyer Mendez (Oscar Nuñez), who thinks his client was a great guy (like everybody else, it seems) explains the specifics of the will—no inheritance to speak of, but the specification that Raymond and Ray are to personally dig the grave for the old man, who chose to be buried naked in a simple pine box. They’re directed to the house where Harris lived—with sexy Lucia (Maribel Verdú), who was, it seems, more than just a landlady, and who has an energetic young son, Simon (Maxim Swinton). At the sparsely-attended wake, they also meet Harris’ nurse Kiera (Sophie Okonedo), a soulful woman who bonded with him in his last days.
Things grow exponentially odder at the grave site, where the brothers dutifully grab axes and shovels in response to their dead father’s demand. The old man’s unorthodox minister (Vondie Curtis-Hall) shows up to preside over the burial and offer a string of off-the-wall observations about the boys. Simon comes with Lucia, requesting—much to the discomfort of the funeral director (Todd Louiso) that the coffin be opened so that he can see the body, since he was at school during the viewing. And matters get really strange when a pair of twin acrobats (Chris Silcox and Chris Grabher) show up with a secret to reveal and routines to demonstrate.
Has all of this been stage-managed by the deceased (who briefly shows up in semi-spectral form, as well as in the flesh when the casket is opened) as a means of reconnecting with Raymond and Ray and helping them overcome what’s stalling their lives? That’s never explicitly stated, but what happens would presumably have warmed the old man’s heart, if he had one (what’s said about his past life makes it doubtful). Ray will take out his trumpet and play over the grave. Moreover he and Kiera will go to a club after the burial, and he’ll nervously join in a jam session there. Emotionally stunted Raymond will go him one better, choosing to remain, at least temporarily, with Lucia and Simon.
The cast is a fine. Hawke and McGregor nail the dissimilar personalities of brothers trapped in a bewildering situation, and both Verdú and Okonedo manage to suggest some semblance of reality beneath characters that are little more than literary conveniences. Hall’s extravagant gestures fit the caricature he’s asked to fill, and young Swinton has precociousness to spare. But Silcox and Grabher can do little but display their physical moves and smile enigmatically.
The problem is García’s script never convinces us that this contrived tale conveys much about the human condition, and as it plunges more and more into absurdism, the clash with the naturalistic background provided by production designer David Crank and cinematographer Igor Jadue-Lillo becomes ever more grating. Nor is the pacing helpful: García direction has little rhythm, and Michael Ruscio’s editing feels sluggish, as though struggling to suggest that something profound is being said when it isn’t, while Jeff Beal’s jazz-influenced score is an intriguing choice that turns out more intrusive than complementary.
“Raymond & Ray” is a road movies that, in the end, takes too many wrong turns.