‘The Fundamentals of Caring’ Netflix Original Review
Put Paul Rudd in a movie, and I’m going to watch it. I am far from alone in this. The Fundamentals of Caring bets big on Rudd’s ability to charm an audience. Rudd succeeds wildly, but as a whole the film is middling.
Ben (Rudd) is a new personal caregiver trying to bounce back from a personal tragedy and divorce. He has taken a new job to care for Trevor (Craig Roberts), who has Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. Trevor and his mother, Elsa (Jennifer Ehle) have moved to America for her work and she is terribly concerned with finding the right caregiver. Ben and Trevor hit it off over poop jokes and Ben gets the job.
Game of Thrones has instilled in me a distrust of skinny, young English men with a mischievous streak, which made Trevor’s character a bit hard to read at first. He loves pranks and making Ben uncomfortable, but the reason for all this behavior is to show his condition is not something to be overcome; it is a part of him, and he wants no sad eyes pointed his direction. Once Ben keys into this, the buddy comedy begins.
The time they spend together is presented through humorous montages full of improved bits that make Rudd so endearing. Roberts keeps pace with his onscreen counterpart and is wonderful in his role. The movie could have been an hour and a half of just these two learning together, growing together and becoming better together. That would have been a fine movie, and our spending the first half of the film with these two is expertly crafted. The direction is solid, and the pain both characters feel comes through in nuanced performances that certainly had Sundance abuzz when the film debuted there. The writing is top notch for the first half of the film.
Then comes the road trip. Trevor is fascinated with America’s roadside attractions and–in particular, the ‘world’s deepest pit.’ He creates a situation that allows the road trip to occur, and the movie sets on a new path. The road trip is a wonderful device for forcing characters to move to new places where they can experience different emotions, witness new events and meet new people. Here it is used to cram as many audience-manipulating moments as possible.
Pretty soon into the road trip we meet Dot (Selena Gomez). “Nice [expletive deleted] shoes,” is Dot’s first line, and we meet Manic Pixie Dream Girl version 2.0: a little edgier, a little more worldly, a little grittier. Gomez does an amazing job with the character she is provided. Dot is not as well rounded as Ben and Trevor and quickly moves from being a new interesting character to a plot point. Gomez is able to make Dot a believable character despite some odd dialogue choices. Her charm onscreen closely rivals Rudd’s, and the amount of cursing Dot does feels like Dot trying to put on a cover instead of Gomez just being given odd lines.
Along the road trip we meet Trevor’s dad. The father abandoned Elsa and Trevor when Trevor was diagnosed at age three. Somehow Trevor held out hope his dad was not slimy human, but the movie makes the father a car salesman just to really beat the point home that Trevor’s dad is not the person Trevor wanted him to be. The meeting causes another cheap emotional moment in which Ben discusses his personal tragedy, losing a son three years ago.
Standing in the background is the pregnant Peaches (Megan Ferguson) who experienced car trouble on her way to see her mother in Nebraska. The baby’s father is currently serving in Afghanistan and unable to help, because a family separated by war is another easy way to get the audience to cry. Peaches is not a character but rather a plot device put into place for the movie’s emotional climax when, inevitably, labor starts weeks early, and Ben is called to action to deliver the baby inside the world’s deepest pit. The second half of this movie is all over the place.
The movie is based on the book The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving, by Jonathan Evison. This movie is certainly an enjoyable, pretty experience and the central cast does astounding work together. Paul Rudd proves he can lead a movie without playing the man-boy character we so often see him misused in, but as you watch you are left saying, “the book is definitely better” even without having read it.
The acting prowess of Paul Rudd, Selena Gomez, Craig Roberts save an otherwise forgettable film.