Film Review | The Fundamentals of Caring (2016)

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Caring is a funny thing.

So, Netflix has a new movie out. It was released a week or so ago, I think, but I’ve only just gotten around to watching it tonight. I was looking forward to it a lot, because the trailer seemed like the film would be quite fun; the film also had various actors that I’m rather fond of. Paul Rudd is extremely charismatic and improves basically everything he’s in, and I knew both Selena Gomez and Craig Roberts from television I watched when I was much younger.

And, you know, that’s a decent assessment of what the film was. It was a lot of fun! Lots of good jokes, striking a decent balance between the more lighthearted stuff and darker humour, and it was ultimately quite enjoyable to watch. As expected, Rudd, Roberts and Gomez all gave rather wonderful performances. Interestingly, actually, there was a fourth character who wasn’t really in the trailer much; her name was Peaches, and she was played by Megan Ferguson. I can’t say I know her from anything, but I quite liked her character – she was very different from the others, and I think that helped establish some more variety in their interactions and general rapport.

It was quite positive, in terms of the tone – despite the dark humour it never really descended into outright darkness. That was something I appreciated, actually; often with films about disabled people, there’s this… not a temptation, but a common trend for these films to have some sort of tragic ending in an attempt to generate pathos and give the film a greater meaning. Thankfully, The Fundamentals of Caring never really goes down that road, and ultimately subverts that trope quite frequently. In the end, the only meaning of The Fundamentals of Caring is that life can still be worth living, and still be rewarding, even with a disability or following a trauma. On the whole, that’s a pretty nice message, and it’s far better than what you get in something like Me Before You.

However, it did get me thinking about representation of disability in movies, and how we approach that – as writers, filmmakers, and viewers.

That was because, ultimately, I’m not really sure how much this film was actually about Trevor (that’s Craig Roberts’ character, who has Duchenne muscular dystrophy, and is wheelchair bound) – the main character, really, was on Paul Rudd’s Ben. Certainly, the focus was on him far moreso than the trailer initially indicated; there was a whole subplot about his wife and family that didn’t make it into the trailer at all. To an extent, this makes sense to me – Paul Rudd was acting as our audience identification character, and you can sort of understand the mindset there. The non-disabled person is our ‘way in’, as it were, to a life that most of the audience isn’t necessarily going to be familiar with. In turn, then, it makes sense to give Paul Rudd’s character some subplots of his own.

Equally, though, it definitely did feel like Paul Rudd’s story was more emphasised across the film. And I’m not really sure how I felt about that, and whether or not it was a good thing? On the one hand, yes, there are a lot of great stories to tell about carers for disabled people – but this wasn’t that, was it? This was about a guy dealing with his own problems, who became a carer to try and work through them; Trevor and his disability was a secondary concern. I kind of feel like, if you’re going to have a film that purports to be about disability, it should actually be about it, rather than just be a film with a disabled character?

I don’t know. I’m not an expert. This isn’t exactly something I’m knowledgeable about. Perhaps everything I’ve just said was wrong, and this was actually a really great movie in terms of representation. From my own limited view, I thought the fact that Trevor’s “big” wish was to be able to pee standing up; there was something quite impactful about how mundane it was, I think, and attempts to do so were a great throughline across the movie.

Ultimately, I think… The Fundamentals of Caring is a pretty good movie. It’s not a perfect movie. But then, a lot of the flaws – insofar as they can be considered such – don’t really come from this movie in and of itself, but rather the context in which it was produced, and the general state of disability representation in films.

I’d still recommend it, though. It’s an enjoyable movie, and a fun way to spend an evening in. Plus, it’s got Paul Rudd in it, and he makes everything better.

8/10

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