Over the weekend I attended a special screening of the new dramedy “Raymond & Ray” at the Woodstock Film Festival. “R&R” (opening in select theaters Oct. 14 and streaming on AppleTV+ starting Oct. 21) stars Ewan McGregor and Ethan Hawke as the title characters, distant half-brothers who reunite to attend the services of their deceased father and… dig up his grave (one of his final requests).
Director Rodrigo Garcia (of Glenn Close dramas “Albert Nobbs” and “Four Good Days”) attended the screening. I chatted with him beforehand. He loved working with McGregor and Hawke and is proud of the movie. He’s also thrilled it was at an area film festival: an intimate setting with devoted film fans who really want to be there.
Garcia asked me some of the films I’ve seen at the Woodstock fest over the years that I liked. I mentioned “Clemency” (which he also thought was fantastic) and “Violet”, last year’s Woodstock opener starring Olivia Munn. Garcia agreed the movie (and especially Munn’s performance) should’ve received more awards attention.
I told Garcia I’ve met his two leads at the Critics Choice Awards — Hawke for “Boyhood”, and McGregor about a half-year before the release of “Christopher Robin”. I knew Hawke was attending some Woodstock fest events later that day (a Q&A and awards ceremony) and suspected he might make an appearance after the “Raymond & Ray” screening. He did, on-stage with Garcia and executive director Meira Blaustein.
Hawke says he first met Garcia when he served as camera operator on “Reality Bites”. Hawke met McGregor in 1994, and he believes they’ve had “similar trajectories of careers. We’ve been acting for a long time, performing the same way.” Hawke even auditioned for McGregor’s role in 2001’s “Moulin Rogue!” On “R&R”, they bonded over some of the “jerks” they’ve worked with throughout their careers. No names were mentioned.
Garcia originally conceived “Raymond & Ray” as “just the trumpet [guy] who had to dig a grave” (Hawke’s character). It took him a couple years to realize that character needed a brother and liked exploring “the amount of damage that flows from the half-brothers concept”. Interestingly, McGregor (as that other brother) was cast first. He previously worked with Garcia on 2015’s “Last Days in the Desert”.
When Garcia mentioned he “scrambled” to find who could play the trumpet-playing brother, Hawke threw his hands up, shook his head in anger and started pacing around the stage. The audience erupted in laughter. Hawke credits “working hard” on his performance as Chet Baker in 2015’s “Born to Be Blue” as preparation for the trumpet scenes (some of “Raymond & Ray”’s highlights).
Garcia says, “No one’s cured in a day, but… these guys could look at the future.” At one point, he texted Alfonso Cuaron (one of the film’s producers) about some of the more… unusual… story aspects: “I’m going crazy.” Cuaron’s reply: “Good.”
“Raymond & Ray” is a slice of life film that attempts to balance quirky, shock-value humor with some quite serious subject matter. The drama works much more than the comedy (the tone, as a whole, is too light). Hawke and McGregor are believable as brothers, though their performances don’t have the kind power to garner them nominations this awards season.
“R&R” isn’t a disaster, but it’s a little too simple / easy / convenient for such a complicated topic. And Garcia didn’t need to include a surprise in the final few minutes. Still, this film may find a way to impact moviegoers dealing with grief. As Hawke reflected on his career during the Q&A (including an analysis of more comedic roles vs. dramatic ones), he simply stated that as an actor, “You get to touch a lot of different lives.”