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The Fundamentals of Caring

There’s an undeniable charm underneath it all with The Fundamentals of Caring, and if absolutely nothing else it’s a film that seems like it genuinely does have a good heart behind it. That said, I’m not sure it really amounts to much more than a high-budget Hallmark film starring a Marvel name and a world-famous pop star. Director Rob Burnett is quoted as having said something along the lines of “once you’ve got Paul Rudd, you’ve got a movie”, and i think that really sums this one up. It’s not particularly good or particularly bad, it’s just an hour and a half of having out with Paul Rudd while he does an odd couple routine with a teenager. It’s the film equivalent of something like a bowl of porridge – it’s fine while you’ve got it and it’s enjoyable enough for what it is, but once it’s gone it’s ultimately forgettable and will probably leave you wondering what you’ve eaten today should anyone ask. But I genuinely don’t think the film ever really wants to be anything more than that, and that’s fine really.

Adapted from a novel with a slightly longer name in “The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving”, what we have here is essentially a by-the-numbers road trip movie that’s kicked into gear by Paul Rudd as Ben, a father with a tragic past, coming into contact with an 18-year-old named Trevor with a severe form of muscular dystrophy, played by Craig Roberts. Along the way, they do a sort of greatest hits of the coming-of-age genre by meeting a rebellious, slightly more mature hitchhiker named Dot, played by Selina Gomez. As they usually are, Dot is a bit of an outcast with an interesting homelife that Ben and Trevor may or may not be able to help with, should she let them. It’s all quite sweet even if it is cliche, and there is a sense that the characters genuinely are growing more or less fond of each other as the trip goes on for very authentic reasons. There is a bit of a lull when we find out what Ben’s tragic past really is, as it’s one of those plot points that was quite obviously designed to spark a natural human emotion towards it without any real connection to the events or the characters involved other than Ben. To be honest it almost comes across as something comical where it comes fairly out of leftfield and then disappears again as soon as it needs to.

Its production is very simple and straightforward, and in some areas, it does let it down a bit. One of the emotional climaxes of the film comes when Trevor is taken to the World’s Deepest Pit, one of many random attractions that he’s somehow grown an affinity for, and he’s able to achieve his modest dream of standing up and taking a piss in it. It’s genuinely a very heartwarming moment that unfortunately gets hamstrung quite quickly when it becomes apparent that the World’s Deepest Pit is a shoddily put-together digital background. Fair enough, it probably would’ve been a tough sell to ask any tourist attraction to allow a crew in so they could film Craig Roberts pissing all over it, but it’s just a shame that the digital background wasn’t executed a little bit better. In other areas, it seems to be mostly shot on location, which it deserves some credit for. One thing, in my opinion, that a road trip movie needs is the sense of excitement that naturally comes from being on a road trip, and I think this manages to show that just by going on one.

Paul Rudd and Selina Gomez are decent enough in their performances, but I’m not sure either of them is doing anything that they wouldn’t do in real life anyway. Although it’s an adaptation of a novel, it does come across as if the parts were specifically written for these two, but perhaps a less cynical take on that would be that the casting is spot on. Craig Roberts does deserve some special credit for his portrayal of a teenager with muscular dystrophy, however. One of the themes of the film is that disabled people can be dicks too and that it’s patronising to forgive them based on their disabilities. Given that Roberts is an abled-bodied man, it would’ve been easy to misjudge that kind of brief entirely and to err a bit close to parody, but he doesn’t. He does something that once again appears to be very authentic and well-measured. There is another argument that says that perhaps the actor playing this character should’ve been disabled themselves and I think it holds weight, but I wouldn’t want to level that criticism at Roberts himself.

I’m not unfond of this film in a certain way – I do think it does everything it wants to do and it does it in a way that’s quite heartwarming for the most part. I just don’t think I’ve taken a great deal away from it, and if I hadn’t watched it for a film club I’m not sure I’d even remember whether I’d watched it or not. It’s disposable, but it’s fine. That’s all it wants to be. I think.

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