The Fundamentals of Caring Review – Surprising Dramatic Comedy Charms

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The Fundamentals of Caring, a Netflix Original Film, presents the unfairness and difficulties of life with a child diagnosed with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy and how one person and possibility can create hope and dare to dream.

Directed by Rob Burnett, The Fundamentals of Caring stars Paul Rudd, Selena Gomez, Craig Roberts, Jennifer Ehle, Megan Ferguson, Frederick Weller and Julia Denton.

The film opens as Ben Benjamin, played by Paul Rudd, entering caregiving class for some yet to be revealed reason he has checked out of life. Hoping to feel again, he becomes a caregiver to focus less on his personal wounds and despair and more on someone else’s need.

Truly he is still struggling, his wife, Janet, played by Julia Denton, is trying to have him sign the divorce papers. It’s during this meeting that we find out that it has been two years. His soon to be ex-wife seems to have gotten on with life and he, weighed down with an unknown burden, can’t. He tosses the envelope on the table and explains “I can’t.”

To him the divorce issues has been settled. He can’t yet and won’t. To Janet, she has made up her mind and continues. She slips the envelope under the door and finally has a process server attempt to serve the papers.

Ben is a part time unemployed writer and with everything that has stilled in his life as he lives, moves and breathes he is essentially the walking dead. His emotions, and his pen are silenced.

Today, he is off to secure his first caregiving assignment. Opening the door, we meet Elsa Conklin, played by Jennifer Ehle, the mother of Trevor, whom we don’t meet for a scene or two as his mother describes his situation and life.

Ravaged by Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy Trevor, played by Craig Roberts, has limited physical abilities he does however have quite a strong sense of humor when you can find it as it is hidden under this massive chip on his shoulder. So when he does show up, he, confined to an electric wheel chair, announces himself by playing mentally challenged and unable to speak.

After that he calms somewhat and we find his biting sarcasm is his lead. So between the two, as Ben is wounded and while as a caregiver he is precise, when Trevor is in one of his moods, he bites back. The two are a perfect couple, verbally sparring with each other with stabbing sarcasm, digs, and bitter words.

As Trevor, for the umpteenth time talks about the totally irreverent tourist attractions that have fascinated him from the largest Bovine to the largest natural hole in the world as he puts place markers on the map for each one.

Suddenly, as Ben is at his wits end with the day in, day out routine of sameness he suggests a road trip to visit these close and trivial sights.

With Elsa panicking, they finally all for five minutes agree it is a good thing and before any of three could change their minds they are on the road. Suddenly the world isn’t as scary as it was.

Stopping for gas and road trip food supplies, a clearly smitten Trevor sees a hitchhiker, to him a goddess, and honestly the first female outside of the television he has seen in some time. A raven haired beauty, who commented on his very cool sneakers. To which he replies, “Mall.”

So the single word answer became the fodder for the next 100 or so miles as the banter between the two becomes less jagged. Suddenly at another pit stop, they see her again.  Soon Dot, played by Selena Gomez, has joined the two as both are chivalrous and feel the road is no place for a hitchhiking female.

I enjoyed The Fundamentals of Caring. It is a charming dramady. There were bits of it, however, that I found unsettling.

Craig Roberts, who gives an unbelievably realistic performance, and was stunning in his portrayal shocked with his initial entrance in the film. That scene, as it was meant to disarm did and felt like mockery of those who do suffer from such deep mental challenges.

Selena Gomez, whom I have only seen in one other film, is a beauty. Her character Dot, is almost an archetype of the adage “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” Her character, chain smoking, hitchhiking, expletives using tough girl truly masks the gentle, caring soul that meets this man who will never get better and sees the person and not the difficulties.

Paul Rudd, whom we know so well from his work across the years, has matured as a talent. We see someone who handles the material, which doesn’t shy away from the realities of life caring for someone with DMD and handles with skillfully.

All the characters have their arch, Trevor and Ben mellow and change, one getting his voice back and the other adjusting his and Dot who isn’t so tough after all and freely gives happiness.

The Fundamentals of Caring is charming, magnetic, film, with smartly written characters that truly shine. It is available on Netflix streaming platform. See it.

Images used with permission.

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