THE FUNDAMENTALS OF CARING
this year’s Sundance Film Festival, and chosen as the closing night premiere, big things were expected of this Paul Rudd-starring comedy drama. But the sad fact is, it feels like a middle-of-the-road effort you’ve seen before, now with the edges rubbed off.
Rudd brings his usual hangdog charm to Ben, a man suffering from an initially undefined loss and dodging the divorce papers repeatedly sent by his wife. While learning the “fundamentals of caring” on an eight-week course, he takes a job as a carer for angry teen Trevor (Craig Roberts), who’s suffering from muscular dystrophy, and the two slowly bond over comedy riffs and Trevor’s tendency to say outrageously misogynistic things. That’s probably meant to be funny, or at least nonthreatening, given the extent of his own struggles — which, as the film establishes, are considerable — but it is not as endearing to the audience as it seems to be to Ben. Still, the two build a relationship, and Ben takes the nearhousebound boy on a road trip of America’s least-exciting attractions. Along the way they pick up a young hitchhiker, Dot (Selena Gomez), who’s planning a new life after her mother’s death, and a heavily pregnant woman, Peaches (Megan Ferguson), who’s travelling home.
It’s not a terrible premise, but the film doesn’t decide for a long time where its focus lies. Is this a journey of self-discovery for Trevor, or one of redemption for Ben? If it’s both, why does Trevor seem to drop away before the end? If it’s all about Ben, why are all these other people involved? Dot is potentially interesting, and Gomez has considerable laid-back cool, but she doesn’t really get any storyline of her own. And while all these other figures come into the story for brief periods, none of them are particularly attention-grabbing, so this doesn’t feel like some epic road trip through a colourful, quirky America; just a mis-executed character piece.
Worse, it’s another film that ultimately treats its female and disabled characters as accessories to a middle-class white man’s path to healing and also spring to mind). Despite the best efforts of Gomez to give Dot some direction, and despite Jennifer Ehle’s really good performance as Trevor’s fierce, but caring mother, none of the women get any real love from this screenplay. It’s a shame, because a more interesting film might have been Trevor and his mother travelling the same route, since at least they’d offer a bit more contrast in personality.
It’s not a terrible film — Roberts is solid as ever, relishing the more acerbic lines — it just doesn’t convince on a human level. While the film does a commendable job of establishing the challenges that Trevor faces — in terms