Synopsis – A man suffering an incredible amount of loss enrolls in a class about care-giving that changes his perspective on life.
My Take – To be honest, when I first saw the trailer of this indie flick, I presumed this was going to be just another feel good film, with a handicapped person thrown in the mix. Nevertheless, being a fan of Paul Rudd I had to check this out. Plus Netflix has been turning in some good original material lately. While (arguably) dominating the marketing with their TV shows, Netflix has been slowly making the move to dominate the movie business as well (especially online). This film being the seventh, preceded by the child soldier drama Beasts of No Nation; the long-awaited sequels Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: The Sword of Destiny and Pee-wee’s Big Holiday; the Adam Sandler comedies The Ridiculous 6 and The Do-Over; and the Ricky Gervais comedy Special Correspondents. Netflix has also acquired 16 other films, which have premiered or will have their first-run on the streaming site, despite not being produced by the company internally. Everyone is familiar with Netflix’s Sandler deal by this point, but his movies are out-liners in the company’s grand plans to make a splash in the indie film market, something Netflix and Amazon both made headlines for at Sundance this year.
And by looking at their slate for Indies, Netflix definitely has the potential to be impressive, and this film makes a strong point for their case. While I wouldn’t go as far as saying the trailers are misleading, mainly as this is a film about an abled protagonist’s job to take life lessons from meeting a physically handicapped person who has almost zero interior inner life. Luckily for us, director Rob Burnett uses his own style, to make the cliché rules of a drama to his own benefit, there by presenting us one of the best feel-good dramedies of the year. Based on author Jonathan Evison‘s novel ‘The Revised Fundamentals Of Caregiving’, the story follows a retired writer named Ben (Paul Rudd) who becomes a caregiver after suffering a personal tragedy that ultimately also cost him his marriage. Ben’s first client is a foul-mouthed teen named Trevor (Craig Roberts), suffering from muscular dystrophy. After a rough start, it becomes clear to Ben that Trevor’s routine isn’t helping him, so he decides to take Trevor on an impromptu road tip to the place Trevor has always wanted to see, the world’s deepest pit. Along the way they pick up a smart-mouthed runaway named Dot (Selena Gomez) and Peaches (Megan Ferguson) a very pregnant down-and-out wife of a soldier trying to make her way to her mother’s house. Eventually they all come to understand what it means to feel hopeful again. Alright, so plot wise it doesn’t have lot of characters who just pop in and out. It has a very simple story with simple cast doing simple things and that’s the beauty of it. There is no over the top emotional scenes where the cast try hard to make you feel sad but there are simple doses of heartwarming scenes sprinkled throughout the movie which made my eyes wet. Considering the premise, this film seems to be designed to make the critics hate. The whole idea signals a potentially deadly mix of quirk and saccharine. Yet somehow, the movie manages to be charming. Early on in the film, the film makes some moves towards debunking myths about disabled people, irreverently depicting the humiliating-yet-hilarious minutiae of Ben and Trevor’s daily routines and revealing Trevor to be as horny, surly, and angsty as any other teenager. The film doesn’t shy away from the logistics of their relationship — Ben is responsible for the bodily functions of Trevor and there are scenes in the bathroom, in other words, the shit is not relegated to the offstage. It’s all too often that narratives about persons with physical and mental disabilities are kept away from the mainstream. Their humanity, sexuality, inner conflicts, and basic dignities are often passed over for the tales of the able bodied. The film manages to be very funny although like most indie comedies which come out of the Sundance Film Festival—where the movie premiered—it never lets itself get too funny so it can focus on the characters’ relationships. What saves the experience from being just another pile of mush about a caregiver and a patient who change each others lives in “unexpected” ways is that it doesn’t let Trevor off the hook.
Yes, he’s in a wheelchair, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be an annoying, sexist dick. The film has got its sentimental moments and tear-jerking tricks. But it goes deeper than the surface (as much as it can for a film where none of the named characters have last names) with some noteworthy performances, and chuckle-inducing one-liners. Maybe it’s reading too deeply into this film to wonder whether the film’s initial attempts at a new kind of disability narrative eventually giving way to sentimentality are an attempt to mirror the personality of a wheelchair-using teen who puts up a jaded front, but deep down is really just another sweaty-palmed teenage boy. Actually, that’s definitely reading too deeply into it, as the film is about as generic as indie dramedies come. Even Rob Burnett’s direction is sometimes heavy-handed, particularly when dealing with the death of Ben’s son; the toddler toddles towards his fate in a series of sunbleached, slow-mo flashbacks. Elsewhere, however, the strong chemistry between Rudd and Roberts keeps the film on course. We may not be convinced by Ben’s backstory, but we believe in his tense, uneasy friendship with Trevor. Paul Rudd, as we all know, has that every working man persona. Rudd is the kind of actor that is so innately watchable, with the boyish, ageless good looks of a Tom Cruise, but the every man likability of a Jack Lemmon, it feels all but impossible at this point for him not to brighten whatever movie he is in. And while this is far from his best role, it’s nice to see that despite being in Marvel’s stable of superstars, he still has the desire to do smaller projects. Incidentally, his role here is not dissimilar to the jaded mentor character he played a few years ago in David Wain’s Role Models. Craig Roberts is excellent in his challenging role. A true star in the making. While its hard to see Selena Gomez in such kind of film, I must say she plays her part very well. Megan Ferguson, Jennifer Ehle and Bobby Cannavale are likable. On the whole, ‘The Fundamentals of Caring’ is a surprisingly witty, emotional and an undeniably charming film, which despite its routine troupes is this summer’s most enjoyable lightweight comedies. Watch it on Netflix.
Directed – Rob Burnett
Rated – PG15
Run Time – 97 minutes