THE FUN­DA­MEN­TALS OF CAR­ING

Empire (UK) - - ON.SCREEN -

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

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