Netflix might have achieved mainstream and critical success with a large number of their original television shows over the last few years, but so far their first ventures into creating and funding their own feature-length films has left them with rather more muted results. The Fundamentals of Caring, released this past June, is resoundingly not the film to turn this tide, with its attempts to offer up a tale of overcoming adversity and battling your demons feeling like nothing more than a dull and uninspired affair. You’ll know within the first ten minutes of this film starting what you’re going to get, and whilst it just about manages to keep things interesting enough for the you to stick with it as it goes through the paces, you’ll likely find yourself wishing you were watching the better films in which it is regurgitating plot points from instead.
The film that The Fundamentals of Caring immediately draws comparison to is the 2011 French comedy-drama The Intouchables, a film that too explores the relationship between a disabled person and their caregiver and how they grow as people when in each other’s company. Few films make me feel as warm and and fuzzy inside as that one does, with the central relationship between the two leads proving absolutely integral to its success, but throughout The Fundamentals of a Caring my predominant thought was always how poor a job it was doing in comparison. I’m a big fan of Paul Rudd’s and think he’s a very capable dramatic actor despite being known for his comedic chops, but here he’s just asked to do too much – it’s hard to really sympathise with him as the grieving father when the theme of losing a child feels so cliched in nature, relying on teased flash-backs as it dances around the issue, and when the film is so keen to keep resorting to crude and brash humour it’s not a given that these more emotional moments will resonate well as a result.
The character of Trevor, played by Submarine star Craig Roberts, also feels like something lifted out of the Beginner Screenwriter’s Guide to Writing Angsty Disabled Teenage Characters, with his bitter and rude outward manner eventually and oh-so-predictably giving way to the tender nature he didn’t know he had as he begins to explore life outside of his comfort zone. Whilst the character had a few funny lines and he and Rudd weren’t totally out of sync, the sheer obviousness of how his character arc would play out severely detracted from any emotional impact this film was supposed to have. Throw in some abandonment issues and a lack of confidence with women and you’ve got an incredibly stereotypical disabled lead who feels like he had been crafted by a freshman student taking his first screenwriting course.
It says a lot then then Rudd and Roberts’ characters remain the most convincing of the lot, with Selena Gomez’s inclusion here proving incredibly baffling. Again, her outwardly sweary and tough-girl schtick is merely a facade for the sweet and caring young woman who lies beneath, and at no point does her character ever feel like anything more than an awkward plot contrivance useful only for her to act as a love interest for Trevor. It’s tough to judge her performance when she’s given so little to work with so I’ll withhold from being too critical here, but to say that she’s one of the most forgettable characters you’ll see all year is something of an understatement. In truth, that’s a criticism that can be labelled against the film as a whole.
The Fundamentals of Caring isn’t a terrible film, and it just about offers enough to make it watchable throughout its thankfully-short 93 minute run-time, but there’s no escaping the fact that there’s just nothing on show here that hasn’t been done before to a much higher standard. Its intentions are good but the execution is shoddy, and the end result is a film you won’t think twice about once the end credits have rolled. Step up your game Netflix – you can do better than this.