The Fundamentals of Caring

Year: 2016
Director: Rob Burnett
Starring: Craig Roberts, Paul Rudd, Selena Gomez. Jennifer Ehle
Written by Sasha Hornby

‘The Fundamentals of Caring’ is an American comedy-drama indie film that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on January 29, 2016, and was released on Netflix, as a Netflix Original, on June 24, 2016.  Adapted from the novel ‘The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving’ by Jonathan Evison, ‘The Fundamentals of Caring’ focuses on Ben, played by the most-likeable-man-on-earth, Paul Rudd. 

Ben is a broken man.  After a family tragedy three years ago, he is now avoiding his divorce, avoiding his work as a writer, and avoiding moving on in life.  After taking a 6-week course in care-giving, he is assigned to Trevor, a wheelchair-bound agoraphobic asshole of a teenager.   What transpires as they become caregiver and ward is a part ‘bromantic’ comedy, part coming-of-age drama, as the two embark on an impromptu road trip that subverts the usual schmaltzy tropes one might expect.

Welsh actor, Craig Roberts, is perfectly cast as the sardonic 18-year-old who openly delights in torturing those around him with an uncomfortably blunt observation or borderline cruel prank.  Diagnosed with Duchenne muscular dystrophy at the tender age of 3, his understandably over-protective mother (played note-perfectly by British actress, Jennifer Ehle) points out he will be lucky to survive another 10 years. 

The journey Trevor has mapped out includes some of the lamest American attractions, such as biggest cow and deepest pit, with the former providing one of the film’s genuine laugh out loud set pieces.  Somewhat predictably, along the way, Ben and Trevor pick up some supporting characters, including Selena Gomez’s foul-mouthed runaway, Dot, and Megan Ferguson’s delightfully sweet heavily pregnant Peaches.  Whilst both actresses do the best they can with the material they have, their characters are never fleshed out to be more than catalysts for the two leads to let go of their demons.

One of the real triumphs of this film is its handling of a disabled character and his relationship with his caregiver.  Yes, Trevor uses a motorised wheelchair, and yes, Ben has butt-wiping duties, but Trevor’s mental faculties are all there.  His disability is never the source of a joke or used in an overly-sentimental way.  Dot’s flirtation with him doesn’t come from a place of sympathy – she openly says she ‘only dates assholes’.  And that’s exactly what Trevor is, in a completely endearing way.

Indie films often excel at curating great soundtracks, and ‘The Fundamentals of Caring’ is no exception.  From the joyful Bright Whites by Kishi Bishi, to the crooning I’m Your Man by Leonard Cohen, to the beautiful Take Me As I Am by Au Revoir Simone, every song has been chosen to seamlessly compliment the moment it accompanies.  

At 93 minutes, ‘The Fundamentals of Caring’ never outlives its welcome.  The screenplay and direction by Rob Burnett is satisfactory, if a little heavy handed at times.  The backdrop of mid-Western America provides some beautiful landscape shots.  What really stands out are the two leads, Rudd and Roberts, who both exude confidence and nuance in their roles.   The film doesn’t necessarily bring anything new to the genre, but it is certainly one of the more likable additions of recent years.  A quaint, humourous, heart-warming watch, that provides a welcome relief to the gritty sci-fi and superhero films dominating the screens.

Sasha’s rating: 7.7 out of 10

 

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