The Fundamentals of Caring (2016): Road Trip (Review)

Craig Roberts, Paul Rudd, Megan Ferguson, Gomez

The Fundamentals of Caring is yet another 2016 feel good film with a plucky young person overcoming a horrific condition. In this case Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy.  While it is all too easy to write this effort off with an unhealthy dose of cynicism, like some critics on some sites (Like, cough, cough; The LA Times.), this road trip film does deliver.

It is not just the presence of “Mr. Popular” Paul Rudd, although this does help, but the chemistry between Rudd and Welsh actor Craig Roberts seals the deal here. Rudd can, of course carry a film himself, but this odd couple pairing actually works.  

Roberts is an accomplished comic actor who has excellent timing. Just check out his other work, which includes some straight roles. (Specifically check out Submarine, a romantic dramedy which was released in 2011.) His interaction will all the principles in this film was spot on.

The real surprise here was Selena Gomez. Her role as the hitchhiking Dot was natural and believable.  The paring of veteran actor Bobby Cannavale with Gomez was perfect. Rudd gave the type of spot on performance one expects. 

The story, taken from the book “The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving” by Jonathan Evison was adapted and directed by Rob Burnett. It stars Rudd, Roberts, Gomez and Cannavale along with Megan Ferguson as Peaches and Jennifer Ehle  as Trevor’s mum, Elisa. 

Kudos to Ehle for doing a believable English accent (based on the character living in the USA long enough to “soften” it considerably) it was a surprise to see she hails from the southern states.

Rudd is Ben. A writer who has suffered a devastating loss in his life. Traumatized, he takes carer classes and changes his career and immediate goals. He meets Elisa and her son Trevor (Roberts). Trev has Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy and is in a motorized wheelchair. The 18 year-old has a set routine and a wicked sense of humor. We learn that he does not keep carers very long.

Ben is slightly pedantic and a little too serious. Trevor loves practical jokes and sarcastic jabs.  This odd couple pairing works well and eventually both will change as a result of their closeness and daily interactions with one another.

Dot (Gomez) is heading to Denver and bumps into the two men as they go visiting the lamest tourist attractions on the map.  Along their travels they run into a very pregnant Peaches (Ferguson) who completes this little merry band of travelers.

To be fair, The Fundamentals of Caring feels like another film influenced by The Theory of Everything or the more recent Me Before You. But what is wrong with that?  This film, for all its adult language and a couple of gags that were adult in nature,  is a feel good film. A road trip where we laugh at the antics of these two disparate individuals.

Burnett does his job well, as do the talented cast, and the finished product makes you laugh and cry.  A number of critics were underwhelmed by the film and that is a shame. The combination of silly tourist traps (The World’s Biggest  Bovine for instance) is amusing on its own, add the comic jabbing between Rudd and Ferguson to this and it becomes comedy and not just a pale copy of other films.

Feeling a little like screen legend Kirk Douglas* from The Ragman’s Son,  “I liked it.”

*In the book, Douglas chooses a wine that the more expert wine connoisseurs demanded be taken away. As the waiter reached for Kirk’s wineglass the three time Oscar nominee  put his hand on it. Douglas then tells the reader, “I liked it.” 

The Fundamentals of Caring may feel a little formulaic but it works well. This is down to the cast and a script that delivers as many chuckles as belly laughs.  Burnett runs the film with a deft hand and never bludgeons the audience with the disease.  He also builds on Ben’s personal tragedy slowly and the reveal  works well because of this.

Airing on Netflix from today, the film is a cracking 4.5 star offering that will make the viewer laugh, giggle, chuckle and tear up a little bit if not outright cry.  Brilliant stuff and well worth a look or two. Check it out.