Netflix Review: The Fundamentals of Caring

fundamentals
Paul Rudd offers a handicapped boy his sausage in “The Fundamentals of Caring”

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.

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