Sundance 2016: Levity Makes 'The Fundamentals of Caring' a Winner
by Alex Billington
January 31, 2016
It's not exactly easy to make light of and laugh at disabilities without coming across as insensitive, which is why this film is so unique. The Fundamentals of Caring (original Sundance title, as it has apparently been changed to The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving) stars Craig Roberts as a boy named Trevor with Duchenne muscular dystrophy who is confined to an electric wheelchair. He requires a caregiver who helps him do many basic tasks, though he always tends to scare them away because he's blunt and loves playing sick jokes on them. The humor in this film is what makes it so entertaining to watch, since the script is otherwise full of too many easy cliches that prevent it from being much more than another good laugh.
Paul Rudd plays Ben, a rather somber, depressed person (you find out why in the film) looking for work who decides to become a caregiver. His first job after finishing training is to work with Trevor, a rather amusing and sort-of-charming, sort-of-not-charming boy who is confined to a wheelchair with Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Trevor is a master of deadpan humor and one of his go-to tricks to new caregivers is to pretend he's choking on food. The reason the comedy in this is so unique is that the film is written and directed by Rob Burnett, who was a writer on "Late Night with David Letterman" for 12 years, and creator of the shows "Ed", "Bonnie" and "The Knights of Prosperity". He flirts with the very edges of comedy in this.
Aside from the humor, the film is a bit cliched as it becomes a roadtrip buddy movie when Ben and Trevor decided to drive to the world's deepest pit. It's a heartfelt way of attempting to get Trevor out of his house and into the world to experience life, but it's also something we've seen so many times. Of course, along the way they meet colorful characters like Selena Gomez as Dot, and Megan Ferguson as a kooky pregnant woman named Peaches. Alas, they don't add much. Even the big final climatic moment is cheesy. It's a joke they've been building the entire film and the payoff is supposed to be fun, but when it finally happens I was rolling my eyes rather than laughing. Maybe because it's clearly a CGI-enhanced shot when it shouldn't be.
That said, the film is still funny and the performances from Paul Rudd and Craig Roberts more than make up for the cliched plot. I've been a big fan of Craig Roberts ever since seeing Submarine in 2010, and I enjoy him the most when he challenges himself and yet still retains that sense of humor that made him so lovable in Submarine. Rudd is also pushing himself in this, more than he did in Ant-Man, and it's an important part of the dynamic between the two main characters that works well. Overall, while I happily laughed at many parts of The Fundamentals of Caring, the plot itself doesn't amount to much and it's easy to forget as soon as it's over. Which is a bit sad, because more than anything Burnett's edgy comedy is refreshing and unique.
Alex's Sundance 2016 Rating: 7 out of 10
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