If there’s one thing in films that will never lose it’s appeal, it’s comedic actors taking on serious roles; for decades, audiences have lapped up the idea that someone so funny could pull off a deep, meaningful role and no matter how many times we see it, we’re still endlessly impressed. This time, Paul Rudd is taking a step away from his usual antics to play a writer with a dark past in The Fundamentals of Caring.
Ben (Rudd) is a writer who’s avoiding his own divorce and struggling to accept fatalities of the past. Looking for a new perspective on life, he takes a care giving course and is assigned to look after Trevor (Craig Roberts), a sarky yet cynical teenager who suffers duchenne muscular dystrophy and has never lived a life outside of his own house. The pair form a weird connection, and before long, they find themselves on a road trip and their ability to cope is tested.
Now, it’s not fair to say that Paul Rudd has never taken on anything dramatic, with films like Romeo + Juliet and The Perks of Being a Wallflower under his belt. But one quick glance at his long and impressive filmography will tell you that he is first and foremost a comedian. His performance in this film isn’t a total departure from that, as he has plenty of scenes that are frankly hilarious, but this is something much deeper and much more damaged than he’s ever tried before, and he absolutely nails it. Ben’s pain and regret is a prominent theme in the film and Rudd conveys it all perfectly. His chemistry with Roberts is also stunning; they compliment each other in the best way, they make each other funnier, there’s an understanding between them and it’s largely what drives the film forward.
The Fundamentals of Caring is an oddly feel good film; all of it’s humour, it’s twists and turns, and it’s inspirational moments come together nicely to make for an enriching experience. However, a lot of time, it wants to throttle you emotionally, and in some cases it does. I won’t spoil it, but there is a very important part of Ben’s past that could have very easily been spoon fed to us through boring, ex-positional dialogue that would undermine the seriousness of it, yet it keeps everything vague and reveals all to us through flashbacks at the perfect times. This is by far the best thing about the film, which sadly never reaches any other emotional heights in the same way.
There are other story lines going on, some you don’t realise until much later, that feel a little soulless and add nothing to the film.
For one of them, it relies very heavily on a cliche that we’ve seen a million times in coming of age films that just isn’t handled very well, and for another one, it’s just sort of comes out of nowhere and is over almost immediately. It’s as if this film is obsessed with making sure every single character gets their story, regardless of whether or not it’s done well. There’s a character in the film named Peaches, a pregnant woman whose car breaks down and joins the gang on their trip, and whilst she plays a crucial part to Ben’s storyline, the film itself could easily do without her. She’s not particularly interesting, or funny, or even worth caring about for the most part; she exists solely to fill this role later on in the film which could have very easily been filled by a nameless character. It just feels entirely tacked on.
This is a film that seems so much better in it’s first half than it actually is; for the most part, it feels very profound, very meaningful and very enjoyable, but once you’ve finished it, it’s actually kind of forgettable. If it was maybe just a bit tighter, and focused more on Ben and Trevor’s relationship (which as it stands, it does a very good job of) and eliminates some of the aforementioned stories that weren’t needed, and maybe just a bit more of an emotional punch than it does, it could easily be a remarkable film.
For now, The Fundamentals of Caring is a good enough film that makes for a great feel good experience, and perfectly demonstrates the dramatic and comedic talents of it’s two leads,. However, it aims too high and doesn’t quite reach it’s mark, leaving a lot to be desired.
THE FUNDAMENTALS OF CARING IS AVAILABLE ON NETFLIX NOW!