What do you get when a soon-to-be divorced father, a lonely young man with muscular dystrophy, a rebellious spirit running away from home, and a very pregnant woman all go on a road trip together?
If you guessed some morbid punchline, get your mind cleaned. If you guessed a collection of indie film stereotypes crowded into one movie, congrats! Also, that movie is The Fundamentals of Caring, the latest Netflix exclusive to grace the streaming service.
The Fundamentals of Caring is what people unfamiliar with great indie movies would imagine an indie movie is. There's an eclectic cast of characters- all of whom have major life problems- going on a literal journey while they help each other on a journey of emotional healing. And, like the most conventional of indie films, the process of overcoming struggles ends up being more quirky than powerful.
All the while, a soundtrack that desperately wants to belong to Garden State bounces around in the background.
Essentially, if you've seen a movie or two that your friend introduced by saying "no one's really heard of this", you might know exactly what to expect from The Fundamentals of Caring. It wears the "indie" label loud and proud rather than striving for original and honest art like less showy independent filmmakers do.
Thankfully, despite its predictable inclinations, The Fundamentals of Caring is lovingly pieced together through and through. It's clear that writer/director Rob Burnett legitimately wanted to tell this story in film form (it's based on a book of nearly the same name).
This desire must have transferred to the cast, because it's the best thing about the movie.
The Fundamentals of Caring stars Paul Rudd as slightly more sympathetic Paul Rudd, a professional caretaker whose new job is taking care of Trevor, a darkly sarcastic and wheelchair-bound boy with Duchenne muscular dystrophy (a degenerative disease that slowly degrades one's muscles until an early death). Trevor is played by Craig Roberts, the under-appreciated young talent who helmed the cult classic indie Submarine.
Upon coming to the conclusion that Trevor needs more excitement in his lonely life, Rudd's character takes him on a road trip to see his favorite "as seen on TV" landmark: the country's deepest pit. On the way, they pick up a pregnant woman whose sole purpose is to add drama later on, and a hitchhiker played by Selena Gomez.
Selena Gomez? That's right, Selena Gomez! Her acting career didn't quite take off after Spring Breakers, but The Fundamentals of Caring proves that she's a talent to respect. When a pop star shows up in a movie, they're often watched skeptically, as if the viewer is waiting for them to embarrass themselves. With confidence and refined maturity, Gomez assures us that she's perfectly capable of handling a complex character.
The cast's shining strength is the relationship between Paul Rudd and Craig Robert's characters. Their interplay is rife with bleak hilarity. They constantly joke together about Trevor's disease, but in a way that's never offensive and always endearing. Their connection through overcoming disability with comedy is charming.
In due time The Fundamentals of Caring ends just as you'd predict, but it's undeniably a pleasant ride there.