Julie Lynn, film producer and Class of 1988 and 1992 alumna, gleefully greeted a theater full of eager movie-goers to an early premiere of “Raymond & Ray” Sunday at the historic Paramount theater. The screening marked Lynn’s return to Charlottesville, where she studied and practiced law for a number of years.
The film was produced by Lynn and written and directed by Rodrigo Garcia, the accomplished writer and director of the popular HBO series “In Treatment,” who is also the son of famed Colombian novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
The story follows a pair of half-brothers named Raymond and Ray, played by Ewan McGregor and Ethan Hawke, respectively, as they reunite to organize a funeral for their estranged and abusive father Harris, played by Tom Bower.
McGregor and Hawke shine in their genuine, lived-in portrayals of the lonely, yet good-humored half-brothers. McGregor is wonderfully awkward in the repressed role of Raymond, who buries his feelings about his father in formalities until he reaches an inevitable breaking point.
Hawke also slips incredibly well into McGregor’s laid-back counterpart Ray, who accepts their father’s malevolent presence in their lives with a sarcastic resentment. The on-screen chemistry between the two gives “Raymond & Ray” an undeniable charm as Hawke and McGregor give the characters a feeling of history and brotherly familiarity, despite their intense differences in how they handle grief.
After the screening, Garcia and Lynn were both featured on a panel about their careers and the making of the film moderated by Andy Edmunds, director of the Virginia Film Office.
One central focus of the panel was the fact that “Raymond & Ray” was shot almost entirely on-location in and around Richmond. Lynn explained this decision to shoot in Virginia despite the challenges of shooting on-location.
“Virginia has a texture,” Lynn said. “It has life. We didn't want to do another movie in LA, we've done plenty in LA. We wanted to do a place where you could smell it, where you felt like you were somewhere specific.”
This decision to spotlight “real” locations — including an eccentric roadside country store in Cartersville and a historic cemetery in Richmond — instead of filming on sets certainly gave the movie an intimate feel. The story of the film is itself a “homecoming” after all — showing the two brothers returning to their childhood town after years away and grappling with the effect their early memories still have on them. The specificity of these Virginia locations makes their dramatic road trip down memory lane feel more unique and grounded.
While the film uses this Richmond road trip to explore intense themes of abuse and familial trauma, it is simultaneously successful as a dark comedy. As Raymond and Ray arrange the funeral, they are playfully finagled into satisfying their father’s increasingly ridiculous posthumous demands — including his dying wish for his sons to dig his grave themselves — and also discover an increasingly shocking array of facts that they never knew about Harris.
Garcia uses absurd humor not only to lighten the general tone of the film, but also to honestly demonstrate the complicated mix of feelings that can arise at the confusing time of death.
“Death is that big mystery, so how do you talk about it?” Garcia said. “It’s a nutty time despite the sadness — or maybe because of it.”
Garcia expressed during the panel that,valthough his own relationship with his father differed greatly from that of Raymond and Ray, he believes all parental deaths share similar qualities.
“You have a daily dialogue,” Garcia said. “You keep having the conversation with [your parents] every day, even if they're not there. You know, you're still arguing with them after they’re gone — and the men do so literally.”
He then went on to reference a fascinating moment in the film where Ray loses his temper at his father, screaming at his already lifeless corpse. Scenes like this one are the film’s strongest moments, honestly representing the ways people can continue to affect each other — even when one of them is gone forever.
“Raymond & Ray” will be widely released for streaming on Apple TV Plus Oct. 21.