The Fundamentals of Caring, 2016.
Directed by Rob Burnett.
Starring Paul Rudd, Craig Roberts, Selena Gomez, Jennifer Ehle, Julia Denton and Bobby Cannavale.
A man suffering an incredible amount of loss enrolls in a class about care-giving that changes his perspective on life.
The Netflix juggernaut is soon going to devour us given the rate the subscription service is outwardly expanding into their “Originals” so much that in the near future we may all have our own original with them. All in jest of course, but given their recent successes with television and film originals, as well as snapping us such talents as Adam Sandler, Woody Allen, Brad Pitt and Robert Redford to name a few. Now even Paul Rudd is an honorary Netflix-er, with his latest film The Fundamentals of Caring snapped up at this year’s Sundance and is soon to receive its debut on the service.
Rudd stars as Ben, a soon-to-be-divorced 40-something who is in need of change. Still putting off his divorce to wife Janet (Julia Denton) after the two suffer a terrible tragedy, he decides to become a caregiver and is assigned to British-born Trevor (Roberts), a teenager who has suffered from Muscular Dystrophy since a young age. After a fraught first interview, the two soon become accustomed to each other and when Trevor explains his aspirations to complete his own bucket list before he dies, Ben seizes the opportunity to take the two of them on the road to conquer the list.
Director Rob Burnett, who cut his chops on such shows as David Letterman and Ed, directs for the time here and he does a good job keeping the film riding along at a brisk pace as we follow of intrepid duo across the country. It would have been very easy to have stretched out the premise for the sake of more of the same but in keeping the run time at a contained 90 minutes means that neither story or characters outstay their welcome and helps keep everything sharp and refined.
What sadly stops Fundamentals from truly soaring is that despite the energy and drive of both the direction and the performances, it all feels a little too safe and familiar. We’ve been here countless times before with Sundance “dramedy” and the film does hit all of those beats and hit them well but when you think the film is going to go up a gear into something more it puts on the breaks. Like the travel map, they carry with them of all the sights they hope to hit the script is good on paper but once it’s “brought to life” it feels somewhat underwhelming.
Anyone who has seen Craig Roberts in Richard Ayoade’s Submarine or his own directorial debut Just Jim last year will attest to Roberts’ superlative talents and his first taste of American film is just as impressive. From his opening moments on screen, Trevor is an energetic ball of foul-mouthed jokes and endless practical jokes but once the facade fades, his sincerity and earnestness shine through.
Burnett said that with Paul Rudd “you have a movie”, and as ever Rudd is in irrepressible “Rudd Mode”: charming, funny and winning, it’s certainly the Ant-Man star’s best role for a while (outside Marvel) and he shines as brightly as you would expect. But it’s together where the leads really flourish, enjoying some superb chemistry that flows so easily that you yearn for more. Selena Gomez does well in the somewhat underwritten role of Dot, a fellow traveller the two pick up along the way, while Jennifer Ehle provides some solid support as Trevor’s mother Elsa.
The Fundamentals of Caring is a curious film: on one hand it’s energetic and thoughtful, on the other you wish it had done more to push itself out from Sundance-blueprint and aim higher. Still it’s a genuinely pleasurable watch with two fantastic lead performances that are well worth your time.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Scott J. Davis is a Senior Staff Writer and Roving Reporter for Flickering Myth – Follow him on Twitter