The Fundamentals of Caring is not a great movie, but it’s not bad either. It’s a typical lower-budget, rough-around-the-edges, slightly stiff coming-of-age film about loss, love and redemption. While not particularly cinematic, the overall look is professional, concise and utilitarian. The music is neither distracting nor memorable. The story, based on the novel by Jonathan Evison, is thoughtful and relatable, if not altogether compelling at times. It’s the kind of film one turns on when taking a sick day from work to lie on the couch and trawl Netflix.
The story follows Ben (Paul Rudd), a man in the midst of a divorce and hurting from the loss of a child, as he becomes a caregiver for Trevor (Craig Roberts, Submarine), a sarcastic British 18-year-old with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. Trevor is a prankster who demands constant attention and is utterly bound by his routine, yet unhappy with his place in the world. Against the better judgment of Trevor’s mother, Elsa (Jennifer Ehle), Ben takes Trevor on a road trip around the Pacific Northwest, following Trevor’s map of America’s “Lamest Roadside Attractions,” including “The World’s Deepest Pit.” Along the way, the two travelers pick up a runaway named Dot (Selena Gomez) and an expectant mother, Peaches (Megan Ferguson).
When held up next to other films of this nature like Rory O’Shea Was Here, Little Miss Sunshine or Garden State, The Fundamentals of Caring falls short in both emotional payoff and dramatic clarity. But what saves the film from being just another quirky indie yawner are the performances of the two leading men, Rudd and Roberts. Without this heartwarming duo and their comedic timing, banter and revealing frankness, the film sadly would not be worth watching.
What is frustrating about The Fundamentals of Caring is that it begins with an interesting premise and engaging performances, then goes into steep decline sometime around the middle of the second act. Selena Gomez as Dot is cute and likable but ultimately one-dimensional, and the supporting cast that pop up following her entrance go from bad to worse. Suddenly the viewer is taken out of the moment and goes from watching an enjoyable, funny, unorthodox friendship develop to wondering why the story is going off the rails. The result is a series of scenes that attempt to be climactic but instead lack authenticity. Add to that the complete lack of geographic continuity and the last act is mildly irritating.
All that said, The Fundamentals of Caring feels like a sincere attempt to put a meaningful story on film. Director-writer Rob Burnett, better known for producing Late Show with David Letterman, Ed and other feel-good television, deserves props for making such an offbeat, heartfelt film, and landing the talent to pull the lead roles off. It’s just unfortunate that the film itself is not entirely successful.
Director: Rob Burnett
Writer: Rob Burnett, based on Jonathan Evison’s novel
Starring: Paul Rudd, Craig Roberts, Selena Gomez, Jennifer Ehle
Release Date: June 24, 2016