When Raymond (McGregor) arrives at his brother Ray’s (Hawke) home to inform them that their father has died, and his last wish was they would attend his funeral, there’s even an actual storm brewing. It’s entirely warranted since there’s every indication of no love lost between the brothers and the man who raised them.
The duo barely acknowledge him as a father, not only referring to him by name but his surname Harris (Tom Bower basically in a cameo role). Conversations between them reveal Harris as a mean-spirited, vicious bully throughout their childhood and beyond and that even their names were reflective of how Harris would play the two against each other.
Men grappling with a father’s legacy is generally reflective of how they approach masculinity and the very idea of manhood. The two naturally embody their different coping mechanisms to manage their rage. Neither of them directs it outward, at least, but the movie takes the approach you’d expect for how they symbolize how good men typically process negative emotions in a culture that encourages them to repress them.
Ray lives a life not totally unlike their father’s. He a former addict, a widowed tortured womanizer, and jazz musician who’s managed to get clean and is openly rageful at the man who raised him, attending more for Raymond’s sake and curiosity at what it’ll feel like to “put him (Harris) in the ground.” Raymond embodies anger turned inward, embracing a life of control and refusing to acknowledge his own pain, telling his sibling, “Your anger, Ray, I couldn’t carry it. It would crush me.”
But as we all know, it’s always the quiet ones, and it’s Raymond’s inability to recognize his anger that leads to the film’s climactic emotional scene, which has clearly been years coming, fuelled by Raymond’s estranged relationship with his own son and the sheer rage of how their father apparently lived his final years. The man that people in town speak of with such warmth is unrecognizable to them, and that Harris spoke of them both so fondly only stokes their rage at the fact that his actions rarely reflected it.
Writer-director Rodrigo García has something of a mixed record on character development. He can reduce women to their most basic functions in Mother and Child and punish them for how well (or not) they fit the nurturing role accordingly, then give a tender meditation on gender in his next feature, Albert Nobbs. The difference may simply come down to writing, as García penned the script for Mother, but not Albert, and was thus able to bring a compelling performance from his performers sans condescension.
“Raymond & Ray is, in fact, so bursting at the seams with diversity that it’s a shame this story once again has to be all about the white guys…”
Unfortunately, García has sole script credit for Raymond & Ray, so the brothers’ road to acceptance involves female characters who are not given nearly as much depth or exploration. Their function is to do the emotional labour of breaking down their barriers, with Harris’s ex-lover Lucia ( Maribel Verdú) being especially singled out for objectification and Kiera (Sophie Okonedo) as a typical no-nonsense type who is naturally the only woman on-screen that refuses to fall for Ray’s charms and doesn’t even question if her Blackness is part of a possible pattern of fetishization on his part.
Other (male) characters, such as Vondie Curtis-Hall as a helpful reverend, and Oscar Nuñez as a comically upbeat lawyer, fare better. Raymond & Ray is, in fact, so bursting at the seams with diversity that it’s a shame this story once again has to be all about the white guys, even those of such talent and charm as McGregor and Hawke.
The sheer charisma of both names goes a long way towards making Raymond & Ray enjoyable despite the familiarity of it all, including the music, which is less a tribute to composer Jeff Beal than a simple, immutable fact: it’s hard to go wrong with jazz. Combine such a safe bet with Hawke playing the trumpet, and well, you have a movie. One that feels more suitable to Netflix than Apple Studios, but still.
Hopefully, mainstream Hollywood will make a point of allowing men who aren’t white to be as vulnerable as these two, but in the meantime, the men in the audience will likely be able to laugh at the brotherly antics, mostly because it isn’t them.