The Fundamentals of Caring stars Paul Rudd as Ben, a former writer who decides to try caregiving after a personal tragedy (read: dead kid). His charge is Trevor (Craig Roberts), an English teen whose Duchenne muscular dystrophy leaves him paralyzed and without fine motor skills. After developing an often-adversarial friendship with Trevor, Ben convinces him to join him for a cross-country road trip. The back and forth between Rudd and Roberts is the movie’s greatest strength – it’s usually quite funny, and neither character is afraid to joke about Trevor’s condition.
Along the way, the two pickup Dot, a teenage hitchhiker played by Selena Gomez (yeah, right). Though we never believe her as a street-smart runaway, she does a decent job as Trevor’s sort-of love interest. Unfortunately, she’s also the victim of some cringe-worthy dialogue that mistakes swearing for humor.
The Fundamentals’s biggest problem, though, is its lack of originality. All these characters are straight out of the indie movie playbook: the goofy but grief-stricken lead, the smart-mouthed handicapped youth, and the beautiful but troubled girl. The same goes for the story’s emotional beats, which are well handled but quite predicable. There’s a scene, for example, in which the group makes a pit stop to meet Trevor’s long-absent dad; surprise, surprise, it doesn’t go well.
The movie also suffers from a melodramatic climax in which Ben must step up and save the day, the scenario of which is a clumsy and obvious metaphor for his redemption. Trevor also gets a big moment in the final reel, which is fleetingly amusing but ultimately lame. Both of these sequences feel out of place in this quiet indie dramedy; they’d be more at home in a generic Hollywood feel-good movie. But despite these fumbling attempts at dramatic payoff, the movie regains its footing for a satisfying conclusion.
Thanks to the comedic chemistry of its leads and a solid screenplay, The Fundamentals of Caring usually works. It won’t blow anyone’s mind, but it is an enjoyable diversion, and that’s more than I can say for most of Netflix’s film library.