Movie Review: The Fundamentals of Caring

Diving further into the realm of Netflix, past the plethora of stand-up comic shows and docu-dramas, and to the left of the superhero series and the bingeable adventures of a women's prison, we find the ever-peculiar and always-intriguing Netflix original films. Popping up on the radar this month, we have the drama-turned-dark comedy, The Fundamentals of Caring. With a small but effective cast including Paul Rudd, Craig Roberts, and Selena Gomez, and its own sling of sharp comedy and superb wit, while the latest Netflix original might not be totally original, it expresses a unique sense of awareness that makes it engrossing to watch.

When writer Ben (Paul Rudd) suddenly retires to become a caregiver, following a traumatic loss and a hard-hitting divorce on the horizon, his first patient ends up being the last person that he could ever imagine cheering him up. Caring for disabled teen Trevor (Craig Roberts), whose own experiences with loss and regret have left him nearly broken by the world, Ben begins to find solace in the boy's strange outlook on the world. Evading Trevor's relentless mother (Jennifer Ehle), the two decide the only way for them to both get to know one another and make amends for the rocky start of their friendship is to hit the road. With an emotional and adventurous journey before them, Ben and Trevor must do whatever it takes to discover the true fundamentals of caring.

Seeing little more than a 30-second ad for this film before I decided to finally check it out, I had little knowledge going in about what this movie was even about. Looking to be another enjoyable indie road trip, chock full of hilarious characters and meaningful underlying messages, The Fundamentals of Caring ultimately ended up being exactly that, with just a few minor bumps in the road. Reliant mostly on the charming charisma of its leading men, especially from the boyish and sarcastic Paul Rudd, the film strung me along a very formulaic path for a film like this, but nevertheless delivered a generally satisfying tale of loss and finding your true purpose in life. While elements of the film do feel awfully reminiscent to other road trip films, running into similar obstacles like distraught travelers and wayward affections to further the plot, this intriguing Netflix original kept its foot steadily on the gas as it took us from Point A to Point B in the most charming way possible.

At the steering wheel of this charming and darkly-heartfelt tale of self-discovery, we have a motley crew I wasn't too surprised to see show up in an independent project such as this. As the troubled hero of our story, who also doubles as a conflicted savior, we have the ever-charming Paul Rudd. Stepping out of his shrinking superhero suit as Ant-Man in order to take on another dramatic-meets-sarcastic role like he did in 2012's The Perks of Being a Wallflower and 2013's Admission, Rudd manages to keep the hilarity alive even when the film dives into more serious themes. With superb chemistry between him and co-star Craig Roberts, Rudd elegantly pours as much charisma into his character's down-on-his-luck demeanor to make for an enjoyable and quirky protagonist.

At his side, we find the equally-depressed and just as troubled Trevor, played by Welsh actor Craig Roberts. Undeniably witty and awkwardly charismatic, the star of 2010's Submarine shined in this film, effectively motivating Paul Rudd's character through crude hilarity and sharp dialogue. While he might not be on Rudd's level of charm, Roberts delivers something genuinely unique as a paraplegic kid just trying to find his way in life. While he might be bound to a wheelchair for the majority of the film -- when he's not trying to pee standing up -- Roberts' odd yet pungent humor manages to be a highlight of the film.

Along with a slew of other enjoyable side characters and notable cameos, another interesting performance to come out of this film was Selena Gomez, who played the rambunctious rebel teen Dot, who also seeks to find her place in the world. While Gomez might not be the most skilled actress out there, the musical artist's ambitious dive into the dramatic acting scene (outside of her childhood Disney Channel roles and other ventures) didn't go without notice. Yes, while her character might be the borderline-cliché of every road trip movie -- the loner female who (sometimes) ends up with the leading male (or vice-versa) after a life-altering cross-country adventure -- Gomez offered up her own unique sarcastic personality to combat the leading men of Rudd and Roberts.

Overall, while it does go along a beaten path of road trip and coming-of-age stories we've seen before -- The Fundamentals of Caring was a satisfying watch for anyone looking for a good dark comedy. While the overall message of the film doesn't come off all that clear in the end -- I guess it's "do what you love and try to always care for others"? -- the film was still enjoyable for its unique characters and quirky humor. So next time you're on Netflix and you don't feel like watching stand-up comedy, documentaries, or the latest Adam Sandler movie, check this one out. Or maybe after you get done watching Orange Is the New Black or something...

I gave this film a 6 out of 10, because while its humor and characters were satisfying, it suffered from a generic road trip plot infused with a darker take on Me Before You (or wait...maybe that was darker).

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