Raymond & Ray: Gallows Humour Made Tender and Charming
TIFF: Raymond & Ray Review
Raymond & Ray is another entry in a long line of films centering on life after death and the process of grief — which can often be made tumultuous by the legacy of a deeply flawed parent. It’s a subgenre that easily lends itself to gloom and misery, but Rodrigo García’s latest outing is one that supersedes that notion, opting instead to pursue a tender, humbler path that is equal parts honest and charming.
Yet, instead of showing its hand immediately, it’s a two-hander that slowly grows into itself, overcoming its initial platitudes to bring forward an earnest foray into gallows humour that delights with its warm, dry wit.
Starring Ewan McGregor and Ethan Hawke as the titular duo — a double act we never knew we needed — the two are long estranged half-brothers who reunite to bury their father, who was the walking epitome of every terrible dad that ever existed. His specter looms heavy over the two, as they come to terms with the scars he left behind in their own eclectic ways en route to his final resting place.
McGregor’s Raymond is the more clean-cut and ostensibly proper of the two, as his neat button-up shirt and vest clash with Hawke’s Ray, a former jazz musician and recovering addict who stumbles in and out of casual affairs with an unaffected demeanour. It’s a cliched dichotomy that surprisingly never drags the film down with it, as they possess a wonderful dynamic that is utterly genuine and authentic.
The two completely work in relation to each other, as Hawke’s dry, cynical edge not only contrasts but intertwines itself with McGregor’s button-down persona— revealing itself through comic jabs, heart-to-hearts, and bracing confrontations with the past that never rely too heavily on their seeming differences, allowing the characters to simply be.
one might rightly assume they’re in for a miserable and formulaic journey because of those opening moments, yet will find themselves utterly surprised by the tenderness and honesty that underpins it, as the down-on-their-luck duo never truly reach that apex of reconciliation and acceptance that is expected from a story like this.
Its refreshing and comforting trajectory unearths some wisdom and insights along the way, as it subtly explores the human penchant for resigning to the chaotic aftermath of a flawed childhood, and how much of our existence is spent on that process. This is wonderfully realized by García’s decision to completely leave out flashbacks, instead offering us a slice of the remnants of a man who, in many ways, was the worst part of his children’s life. This creative choice saves the film from melodrama and schmaltz, as we are allowed to decipher greater truths in the vestiges that remain.
Armed with a subtle, yet great jazz score, García imbues the film with taut economic camera movements that cascade in and out, slowly zooming into the forlorn visages of the titular characters. His understated and hidden style elevates the film, settling into a comically plaintive stream with ease. It all culminates in a great final shot that not only poignantly parallels the beginning but visually epitomizes the title and the innate power of a fraternal link.
With so much the film does well, its more odd choices stick out like a sore thumb. Chief among them being confusing character choices and appearances that, at their worst, take you out of the experience (such as the presence of the funeral director during a certain excavation). These moments undermine the subtlety and honesty the film works so hard to cement—with the most eye-roll-inducing sequence involving a gun being pointed at a grave.
Yet, despite its moments of ham-fistedness, Raymond & Ray succeeds as a cathartic and tender venture into gallows humour that charms just as much as it moves. It’s an insightful look at grief, reconciliation, and the empty, circus-like process of modern grieving. García has crafted a film that is surprisingly enjoyable given the trying subject matter, and that is perhaps its greatest feat—making such a miserable process utterly endearing and uplifting.
- Prabhjot Bains
The 47th edition of the Toronto International Film Festival takes place from September 8–18. Find all our coverage here.