Disability in film can be a very tricky subject to utilize. Sometimes you have features that treat the disabled characters with respect, while also bringing light to the trials and tribulations of their condition. Other times, you have movies that treat it like a gimmick to fluff an otherwise middling tale. It may be a very fine line to cross in the cinematic world, but thankfully for Netflix, The Fundamentals of Caring does an appreciable job of treating the disability second, while focusing on the relationships of its characters first and foremost.
The Fundamentals of Caring stars Paul Rudd as Ben who finds himself struggling through life and avoiding his wife who keeps sending him divorce papers. In need of a proper profession to quiet the demons of his mind, Ben takes up a care-giving job helping muscular dystrophy ridden Trevor (Craig Roberts.) While they initially butt heads, the two begin to form an oddball workplace friendship as the days go by. Yet, one day, Ben begins to notice how little Trevor is trying to live life outside of watching television and eating waffles all day. Seeing that Trevor has a bucket list of quirky American attractions he wants to visit, Ben decides it’d be the perfect way to get Trevor to move past his limitations without being stuck in a house all day.
Above everything else this movie has to offer, what stands strongest is the unmistakable chemistry between leads Paul Rudd and Craig Roberts. Rudd is running on all cylinders here, from his sullen moments pondering life in a dirty motel room to his bubbly outbursts, he commands the screen every time he appears on it. Yet, what comes as the biggest shocker is how well the personalities of Rudd and Roberts bounce off of one another. Despite Trevor being antagonistic to newcomers in his life, you still end up rooting for the lovable “smart ass” wit in his dialogue. It clashes exceptionally well with Ben’s character quirks, making for an exceptionally great road trip film thanks to the characters we get to follow. It also helps that there are many laugh-a-minute moments between the two during said journey, thanks to a script filled to the brim with sharply mature humor.
I also have to give credit to actress Selena Gomez, who does a great job lending to the story through the character of Dot. While serving as another example of trying to get Trevor out of his comfort zone, her personality stands out against Ben and Trevor thanks to Gomez’s conviction and liveliness in attaining that rebel runaway persona. The blooming romance between the two characters is just as cutesy, yet down to earth as one could hope for. So while the “finding romance on the road” subplot is nothing new, it’s still an enjoyable diversion thanks to Gomez’s sentiment and Roberts’ antics.
The one and only problem this film really has is the issue that it doesn’t do much to try to revolutionize the buddy road trip story. It packs in many of the themes you would expect in a tale about young adults and older adults growing up together through a road trip setting. On that same note, there exists one specific theme about forgiveness portrayed through the character of Peaches (Megan Ferguson) that is so obvious, the most inexperienced moviegoers will be able to pick up on it and may even sigh at its inclusion to an otherwise enveloping narrative.
And yet, not every film has to redefine its genre. What makes The Fundamentals of Caring such a worthwhile Netflix original movie is not what it sets out to change, but how much it wishes to encapsulate you with its characters. And while it certainly won’t win any awards for subtlety, The Fundamentals of Caring boasts a talented cast, sharp wit, and a funny script to liven the buddy road trip genre past its apparent tropes.