The indie-comedy, The Fundamentals of Caring (2016) just marked its anniversary for two years of streaming on Netflix and if you haven’t watched it, you need to. Not only is it based on Jonathan Evison’s 2012 novel, “The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving,” but the film stars Ant-Man’s Paul Rudd and the British up-and-comer Craig Roberts. It’s a story that gives comedy clichés a crowd-pleasing workout as a recently divorced man and a foul-mouthed teen with Muscular dystrophy come together and embark on a road trip to see the world’s deepest pit.
It begins with a retired novelist, Ben Benjamin (Rudd), who spends most of his days literally running away in any way he can from signing his wife’s divorce papers. To distract himself from his own emotional pain, he enrolled in a class on how to be a caregiver and applies this to take care of eighteen-year-old, Trevor (Roberts).
Trevor’s sarcastic humour and rapid insults immediately take you inside his persona and slowly reveal his insecurities about doing anything other than his daily routine of eating waffles, watching the news, and making Ben, as he states it, “wipe his ass.” Ben eventually finds a map with Trevor’s markings, a map where he collects research about eccentric American landmarks that he wishes to see, but never plans to visit. Ben seizes the opportunity to take Trevor on this trip to initially help him see the world, but ends up helping clarifying himself equally through his own struggles.
The Fundamentals of Caring is a classic “lesson” movie, one that begins with the characters in grief and sadness and evolve towards contentment. Although an overdone concept, there’s something to be said about films that do this well – and this is one of those times. It teaches us the valuable lesson that we are all capable of more than we think.
Seeing the relationship between Ben and Trevor begin as a banter between two conflicted strangers to a father-son wit allows us to remember how powerful cinema is, as a so-called “empathy machine,” if you will. The characters are merely strings waiting to pull at your heart. However, it’s not so much the plot that tugs at your emotions, but the bond between the characters, conveyed through the astounding acting. Director Rob Burnett, formerly known as the executive producer for “The Late Show,” shared in an interview with IndieWire on how he went about his directorial choices throughout the production process.
He said, “I will listen to anyone that has anything to offer: From actors to production assistants to the guy working the craft table. Sometimes the best idea is mine, often it is not.” It’s this collaboration with the rest of his crew that allowed the characters to seem to move so freely and comfortable on screen, especially in one of the last moments they share within the van.
Burnett shared that the location he had initially planned to wrap the story with ended up being too expensive for his indie budget. As a result, he and his cinematographer decided to extend a shot of Ben and Trevor in the van, ultimately the space where their journey mainly occurred, anyway.
He said, “I decided I could achieve the emotional downbeat by simply extending Craig and Paul in the van. Less about the camera, more about the actors which is almost always better.” The Fundamentals of Caring premiered at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival and can now be found on DVD or under the “Comedy” section on Netflix.
Rachel Blumberg can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org