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Conventionality kills 'Fundamentals of Caring'


June 28, 2016

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    Netflix’s latest feature film, a by-the-numbers indie dramedy titled The Fundamentals of Caring, might have just came out this Friday, but odds are, you’re probably already too familiar with the painfully generic tale this story managed to weave with its 90-minute runtime. 
    Conventional storytelling isn’t necessarily a crime against cinema. Indie dramedies are susceptible to trite tropes as much as any other genre, and a trope-heavy movie can be executed well and even held in high regard. Unfortunately for director Rob Burnett, The Fundamentals of Caring fails to make any memorable impression, leaning on saccharine clichés to an eye-rolling degree, without any sense of self-awareness at its banal plot and stale story beats. 
    It’s not a completely dull affair. From time to time, a kernel of cleverness will manifest within the script’s jokes. The script halfway succeeds in producing laughs and delivering dramatic moments, but this is mostly due to the film’s saving grace: its leads. 
    The two brave actors, Paul Rudd (Anchorman, Ant-Man) and Craig Roberts (Submarine), presumably read the maudlin script beforehand and took it upon themselves to try and bring some life in these overplayed archetypes and turn them into actual characters. Rudd, a veteran in all things comedic, stars as Ben, a failed novelist-turned-novice caregiver, burdened with a tragic backstory. Roberts plays Trevor, a foul-mouthed, wheelchair-bound adolescent with muscular dystrophy, whom Rudd is charged with taking care of.   
    The film is beyond lucky to have grabbed two gifted actors to anchor the film. Rudd and Roberts work well with each other, showing some genuine chemistry when delivering jokes and hurling insults at one another. By having a protagonist with a serious disability, there’s an opportunity for novelty that the film actually cashes in on in the first half hour — displaying the monotonous day-to-day schedule of Trevor’s life in a comedic montage. 
    However, whatever original story the film might have been able to depict about the life of a disabled teen gradually disappears whenever Ben convinces Trevor to live life outside of his living room and embark on a life-affirming, soul-searching road trip to see The World’s Largest Pit and other minuscule roadside attractions that falls in line with their quirky interests. Their formulaic road trip comes equipped with sensitive background songs, an eccentric obsession with Slim Jims and, most importantly, unexpected detours that eventually lead to emotional catharsis. 
    The duo’s trip inevitably leads them to pick up Dot, an attractive runaway with attitude played by Selena Gomez. Gomez may well indeed be talented, but she’s stuck playing a character whose entire personality easily can be summed up with “she’s a beautiful young lady with a kind heart who frequently curses.” Depending on one’s funny bone, viewers might find this trait inherently funny like the film intended, and if that’s truly the case, good on them. Her foul-mouthed, snarky character gets along marvelously with Robert’s foul-mouthed, smart-alecky character; expectedly, light flirtation and teenage romance soon commences. 
    A pregnant woman named Peaches is also picked up by the gang, largely because of metaphorical reasons. Because she’s a pregnant woman in a road trip movie, she’ll unexpectedly go into labor, and her nameless baby will fulfill its thankless role of further motivating the protagonists into acceptance and self-healing. 
    It’s hard to fault the film too much; after all, it’s adapted from Jonathan Evison’s novel, The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving. This could be a classic case of book being better than the movie, or maybe the film’s problems were rooted in its source material. Either way, it’s clear that The Fundamentals of Caring would have benefited more from a revised script than a revised title.

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