The Fundamentals of Caring (2016)

  • Time: 93 min
  • Genre: Comedy | Drama
  • Director: Rob Burnett
  • Cast: Paul Rudd, Craig Roberts, Selena Gomez


A writer (Paul Rudd) retires after a personal tragedy and becomes a disabled teen’s caregiver. When the two embark on an impromptu road trip, their ability to cope is tested as they start to understand the importance of hope and friendship.

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  • Picture this: a boy and a girl in a diner somewhere in the middle of America. Seen through the diner window, they could be any ordinary boy and girl on a date, having fun, laughing, enjoying each other’s company. Except he’s no ordinary boy. His name is Trevor (Craig Roberts) and he has Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a rare disorder that has bound him to a wheelchair and which statistically means he’ll be lucky if he lives to see 30.

    Watching them from the window of the motel room across the street is his caregiver, Ben (Paul Rudd), himself emotionally impaired from the death of his young son. Unable to move on, he’s been dodging divorce papers from his still-waiting-to-be ex-wife and not exactly following the caregiver commandments heard at the start of The Fundamentals of Caring, the film adaptation of Jonathan Evison’s 2012 novel The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving. “I cannot take care of another unless I first take care of myself,” one commandment goes. “Caregiving,” says one worker, “is understanding how to navigate a complicated relationship between those who give care and those who are in need of it.” Or, as writer-director Rob Burnett presents it, Ben and Paul are here to fix one another and themselves in the process.

    Burnett is a five-time Emmy winner best known as the executive producer of The Late Show with David Letterman, and his prioritisation of smart-alecky humour over sentimentality often offsets the dire predictability and patness of his narrative. Trevor’s defense against pity is an offensive and sometimes offending sarcasm – he’s constantly showering insults upon Trevor, who proves pretty unflappable except when Trevor pretends to be choking on a Slim Jim. Despite such hurdles, the two naturally develop a bond which all-too-obviously mirrors a father-son relationship.

    The two set off on a road trip of quirky American landmarks (the biggest bovine, the deepest pit) after Ben rouses Trevor to do something more with his life than stay home watching TV and eating waffles and generally wasting his life and Trevor sharply accuses him of doing the same (why has Ben stopped writing, why can he not just sign the divorce papers). Whilst the dynamic between Rudd and Roberts is aces, the film really perks up with the arrival of Selena Gomez as Dot, a sassy and straight-talking hitchhiker who smites Trevor’s heart. Despite their relatively brief appearances, Gomez and Jennifer Ehle, as Trevor’s wryly no-nonsense mother, make the strongest impressions.

    There are Daddy issues galore, from Trevor’s estranged relationship with his jerk of a father (Frederick Weller) who abandoned him after learning of his diagnosis to Dot’s own problems with her father (a cameo from Bobby Cannavale). Then there’s the shoehorned and thoroughly out-of-place strand of Ben believing that he’s being followed by a man intent on serving him a court order. There may not be one frame of the film that is without an almost cringeworthy cliche, yet there’s no denying that the amiably ambling The Fundamentals of Caring is not without its charms.

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