In a rather broad sense, Netflix’s The Fundamentals of Caring is Little Miss Sunshine with a disabled person twist. It’s about a group of broken people gradually becoming less broken while embarking on a road trip in a van together. It stars actors (Paul Rudd, Selena Gomez) whose name recognition would have once guaranteed this a theatrical release, but now it goes straight to Netflix. Based on the rather minimal productions values, it has to have been a passion project for all involved, the type of movie where the wealthy lead actor might have sprung for craft services out of their own pocket. It likely displeases all those critics who say more disabled characters on film and TV should be played by actual disabled people, not able-bodied actors. Moreover, if you aren’t a fan of sitcom contrivances and sentiment then this movie won’t be for you.
But fuck it. I liked Little Miss Sunshine, sitcom contrivances and all. Plus, I don’t know if it’s homerism (he’s from my neck of the woods and loves the Kansas City Royals as much as I do) or holdover goodwill from his roles in movies like Clueless and Ant-Man, but I am eternally pleased to see Paul Rudd on screen, any screen for that matter since Fundamentals can be viewed pretty much anywhere Netflix is available.
Of course, The Fundamentals of Caring isn’t perfect. The plot revolves around a sad, long-term unemployed man (Rudd) becoming a caregiver for a snarky, sex-obsessed teen (Craig Roberts) who has muscular dystrophy. Through a surprising display of tough love (and healthy use of montage), they gradually form a bond, and Rudd convinces Roberts he needs to do more with the little time he has left in his life than simply watch TV almost every day and go the park on Thursdays. Cue up a road trip to tour roadside attractions in the Pacific Northwest. Along the way, they meet a charming, effortlessly cool runaway (Gomez) who is hitchhiking to Denver and offer to give her a ride.
It’s all a tad too predictable. For example, as soon as we learn Rudd’s character used to be a writer, with several published books to his name, we can guess the movie will probably end with him staring at a computer screen and composing some perfect summation of his adventures on the road, marveling at how the experience left an indelible impression on him. Moreover, the van trio eventually becomes a quartet via a late addition to the cast who offers rather little other than to act as a mirror for Rudd’s character.
However, Fundamentals of Caring is a movie you watch to see Paul Rudd, Craig Roberts and Selena Gomez be funny and occasionally sad in a van together, and that’s exactly what it delivers, carried considerably further than it deserves by the chemistry of its cast. It has other admirable qualities, such as the way it celebrates the spectacular possibilities of a disabled person’s life rather than lamenting the crappy hand they’ve been dealt by fate, and the film’s ultimately positive, life-affirming message is enough to make you smile. But the real draw here is seeing these three actors getting to play together, being reminded of Rudd’s dramatic (as well as comedic) abilities and encouraged by the promising careers which lie ahead for Roberts and Gomez.
Quasi-Spoiler: Paul Rudd is not the only Ant-Man actor in this movie. I shall say no more.