While some have difficulty with the overtness of Paul Rudd’s “surly” characters blatantly being sappy ones underneath it all, one can still find some redeeming qualities in the Netflix-distributed, Rob Burnett-directed The Fundamentals of Caring.
The film, of course, like so many others is based on source material, specifically, Jonathan Evison’s novel, The Revised Fundamentals of Caring, probably called such because of the out of boundaries nature Ben (Rudd) approaches his caretaking relationship with Trevor (Craig Roberts, who will forever hold a place in adolescents’ hearts thanks to Submarine). As Ben goes through his six-week training course in order to receive the certificate required to work, an acronym is ingrained in him: ALOHA, which is to say, Ask, Listen, Observe, Help, Ask again.
But when Ben manages to land his first job for a particularly complex charge named Trevor, who suffers from Duchenne muscular distrophy (affecting one out of 3,500 males, a number that comes into play numerous times throughout the film), he immediately throws everything he learned out the window. And yes, this already sounds a bit trite in terms of what we can expect of the narrative that follows–Ben learning more from Trevor than Trevor ever could from him, etc.–but, still, The Fundamentals of Caring has its moments. Up until Selena Gomez’s entrance into the frame, that is.
Playing the requisite role of “wildcard” female love interest, Dot (short for Dorothy), Gomez attempts to bring some of the roguishness of Spring Breakers to her character, but should have stuck to playing the virginal angle she used for Faith in said movie. Naturally, she joins Ben and Trevor on their road trip, which Ben gunned for after learning of Trevor’s desire to see every major roadside attraction in the U.S.–or at least those close to Seattle.
And, oh yes, what would be a journey toward self-discovery without a trip to Trevor’s father in Utah, who abandoned him when he was three years old, just after he was diagnosed with his condition? The father-son, parent-child motif that infuses the majority of The Fundamentals of Caring is, in large part, what makes it come across as more than a hair on the maudlin side, with Ben asserting things like, “It’s the only reason we’re here,” when asked by a pregnant woman who has joined them on the road what it’s like to be a parent. Being that the film opens with a scene of Ben’s giggling son from an overhead point of view, we soon learn just how deeply Ben has been affected by loss. Not to mention the fact that his wife has been trying to get him to sign divorce papers for the past two years.
But Trevor is a means to distract from these inner demons, even encouraging him to go back to writing (yes, writers can often find themselves in careers quite far off from their original goal), and that, when he ends up writing about Trevor, to describe him as “handsome and cool.” Sadly, these adjectives are just the sort to find themselves in the hackneyed writing that gets published nowadays. And apparently also the kind that gets films made, too.