A smash at Sundance, The Fundamentals of Caring is a typically worthy slice of independent American cinema with a high profile cast and a decent story at its core. Unfortunately the story stalls at regular intervals, which is a bit of a problem for a road movie.
Unfortunately the story stalls at regular intervals, which is a bit of a problem for a road movie.
Ben (Paul Rudd) is a man trying to put the pieces of his life together again following a tragedy. He is training to be a care-giver and soon lands himself his first job. Foul-mouthed teenager Trevor (Craig Roberts) is intent on making Ben’s task as difficult as possible, having already seen off a string of prospective carers. His mother (Jennifer Ehle) is reluctant to let Trevor go anywhere, fearing his muscular dystrophy has confined him not only to a wheelchair but also to his home. As Ben learns more about his responsibilities, as well as more about Trevor, the pair begin to like one another. They’re not going to be best friends anytime soon, but at least there is an understanding. Throwing caution to the wind, Ben decides to take the youngster on an impromptu road trip to see some of the unlikely attractions along the way to the Midwest and ‘the deepest pit in the world’.
There are few surprises in this middling road trip adventure. The formula has been long-established and even the addition of hitch-hikers along the way does little to detract from the predictability of it all. Arguably the biggest surprise comes in the form of Selena Gomez. The singer-turned-actress adds another impressive performance to her cinematic CV as one of the people picked up on the roadside by Ben and Trevor.
To be fair, all the performances are convincing. Rudd translates his immense likeability into a melancholic and haunted turn. Ben is a man who is hurting, a man who is about to lose his life because he can’t fully come to terms with what has happened to him. It’s Rudd at his best, challenging himself to keep an everyman persona in the face of extraordinary pressure.
The story is adapted from a novel by writer and director Rob Burnett. Some of the reveals towards the end feel unnecessary given the type of film we have just seen before. We almost instantly know what is driving Ben to take on the job and road trip, so to see it spelled out in a flashback is somewhat redundant.
Craig Roberts does well with his role too. Having played deadpan in Submarine, he is asked to do a lot more here. Although he is in a wheelchair for the film, the camera instead focuses on his face for a lot of the time and even then we get to see the anguish and confinement in his expressions. It’s tough to pull off, but the talented Welsh actor does it with aplomb.
Selena Gomez’s Dot is a free-spirited drifter who isn’t as grown up as she thinks. Trevor falls for her charms and the relationship they form is one which just feels ‘nice’. Gomez is beginning to grow into her on-screen career at a rapid pace, and even as one of the most recognisable faces on the planet, there will be a few filmgoers who will only know her now for her movies.
Rudd and Roberts are the real heart of this film though, and when they are on-screen together you often forget the other troubles the film has, and instead get swept up in an amusing double-act. The one-upmanship of their pranks on each other surprisingly manage to keep you guessing and entertained even when the movie starts to drag.
perfectly at home on the small screen
The growth of Netflix is now seemingly unstoppable. This was one of the titles picked up at Sundance earlier this year, and with the increasing number of exclusives they have in the works, The Fundamentals of Caring only adds to the appeal of the streaming service. At least with this film you have a title that is perfectly at home on the small screen.
The Fundamentals of Caring is on Netflix from June 24th.