Death, taxes, the enduring adorability of Paul Rudd: these things, at least, we know for certain. The uncannily ageless actor’s crinkly-eyed charm goes a long way toward carrying the new Netflix original The Fundamentals of Caring—even if that twinkle is deliberately muted as the movie begins.
Rudd stars as Ben, a depressive failed novelist and should-be divorcé (he won’t sign the papers his ex keeps serving) who decides to take on a second stopgap career as a home-care aid. After taking what seems like a disturbingly brief course for a job involving daily life-or-death situations, he lands his first client, a young wheelchair-bound British expat named Trevor (Red Oaks’ Craig Roberts) whose limbs are severely weakened by muscular dystrophy but whose sarcasm reflexes seem to work just fine.
Trevor’s frazzled single mom (Jennifer Ehle) tells Ben that she’s hired him strictly to watch her son while she works and to help him maintain his highly regimented routine: massages and medications, three square waffles-and-sausage meals a day, endless hours parked in front of the TV. Ninety minutes of this, of course, would be deadly—and so what we get instead is a quirky-cute roadtrip adventure, as Ben fights gamely to bring Trevor out of his protective shell and into the world. (Or at least across county lines in a handicapped van to see the World’s Biggest Cow and other roadside attractions). Once their wheels hit the pavement a deeper friendship-slash-surrogate-dadship begins to blossom, and a romantic interest arrives in the form of a sulky hitchhiking runaway named Dot (Selena Gomez).
The film has impressive background bona fides: It’s based on a beloved bestselling novel by Jonathan Evison and co-written and directed by Rob Burnett, an Emmy-winning longtime executive producer of The Late Show With David Letterman. And the script makes sure to take full advantage of its unrated status; Gomez especially gets a Goodfellas amount of f-bombs in. Still it’s an incurably mild movie, sweet and stolid and so clearly telegraphed that you can practically hear the click and whirr of a Sundance screenwriting lab behind every line. Secrets are revealed; hearts are healed; each interstitial moment is underscored by the jangle and strum of a faultless indie-rock soundtrack. Rudd and Roberts do have a nice chemistry, and some of the kookier comedic bits land nicely. But it’s hard not to compare it to other superior films (The Intouchables, Me Before You) in what seems to have become its own sort of mini-genre: The odd-couple caretaker dramedy. Caring may be fundamental, but it never quite feels necessary. B