THE FUNDAMENTALS OF CARING drew decent reviews in 2016, but sadly perished at the box-office, ranking just 289th for the year. It deserved much better. Written & directed by Rob Burnett, based on the 2012 novel “The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving” by Jonathan Evison, thanks to good work from the cast it transcends the expected clichés almost a given in “heartwarming” dramedies around caring for the disabled. *
BEN: “You think because you’re in a wheelchair that gives you the right to say and do whatever you want?” TREVOR: “You ever considered that maybe I’m just a prick, with or without the wheelchair?“
Out of work, on the cusp of divorce, struggling to recover from a family tragedy, ‘Ben Benjamin’ (Paul Rudd) decides to become a caregiver. His debut assignment involves convincing single mother ‘Elsa’ (Jennifer Ehle) that he can handle what her 18-year-old son ‘Trevor’ (Craig Roberts) can dish out. Which is plenty: Trevor has Duchenne Muscular Distrophy, a strict regimen and a mercilessly taunting attitude. Ben eventually wins enough trust that he is allowed to take Trevor on a road trip to see some odd American roadside attractions (Trevor is English and bemused by some of quaint weirdness we exhibit). The trophy destination is “the world’s deepest pit”, a copper mine gouged in Utah. The adventure picks up when the guys give lifts to Denver-bound teenage hitchhiker ‘Dot’ (Selena Gomez), and then to ‘Peaches’ (Megan Ferguson), car-stranded and pregnant.
“Every corny thing you’ve heard about having a kid is completely and utterly true… It’s the only reason we’re here.”
Sure, it’s programmatic, but the script has some clever exchanges and the cast make the most of it. Rudd’s innate likability is hard to dismiss (when the detail of Ben’s personal hurt is revealed the pain registers) and Roberts expertly manages the tightrope crossing between Trevor’s early, often hurtful sarcasm and sympathy for his plight.
Though it starts in Seattle and makes its way to Utah and back, it was shot in Georgia, such are the convenience exigencies of budget film-making. With Bobby Cannavale (always welcome), Julia Denton, and Frederick Weller (as Trevor’s worthless father). 97 minutes.
* Sometimes offerings in the “caretaking” mini-genre can get the superficial Lifetime TV treatment: for every pee joke there’s a tearjerk tug of “realization”. Along with acting workouts, the really good ones evade the obvious and deliver honesty, humanity and hope: Passion Fish, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Whose Life Is It Anyway?, Breathe, The Theory Of Everything, The Sessions.