The Fundamentals of Caring – #watchthisspace

In #EIFF, #watchthisspace, Features, Features, FILM, THEATRE & TV, HOME by Sam Prance

#watchthisspace is for the PTL team’s highlights and viewpoints at EdFilmFest: the ones to watch at this year’s festival, in some short ruminations by the ones who have watched.

Dir. Jonathan Evison (2016)

Fundamentals of Caring debuts on Netflix – June 24th, 2016.

I’m not going to lie. My main interest in seeing The Fundamentals of Caring lay in the fact that it stars Selena Gomez. Having low-key appreciated her as a popstar for many years, I became a full on stan with the release of her latest album: ‘Revival’. The album is a coming of age for Selena. It sees her establish what sort of artist she wants to be, having cut ties with her Disney label and now fired her mother as her manager – on good terms. The music is intelligent, subtle and confident – much of its strength lies in a restraint too often absent in pop – and it seems that ‘Revival’ is just the beginning of Selena’s official conversion/natural progression from Disney alumni to global superstar. With this in mind, I was intrigued to see how Selena the actress compares to Selena the popstar. Bar Barney & Friends, I’d never seen her act – I was the wrong age to catch onto Wizards of Waverly Place and Springbreakers still sits on my ‘Ones to Watch’ list. I was also interested to see what sort of film projects such a promising popstar would choose to join. Would The Fundamentals of Caring be reflective of Selena’s own personal growth these past few years? Would it be a good film?

Yes. The Fundamentals of Caring is not a controversial film and has, unsurprisingly, already received critique for being formulaic – this is its Google bio: a writer (Paul Rudd) retires after a personal tragedy and becomes a disabled teen’s caregiver. When the two embark on an impromptu road trip, their ability to cope is tested as they start to understand the importance of hope and friendship – but none of that matters at all. It is a charming, laugh-out-loud funny, beautifully realised film that showcases the talents of all its cast.

The film opens with shots of a boy laughing. It then snaps to Ben (Paul Rudd) taking a caregiving course before being employed by Elsa (Jennifer Ehle) to look after her son Trevor (Craig Roberts), who suffers from Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. It soon becomes apparent that the boy laughing was Ben’s son, who died for reasons that become clear as the film progresses. It also becomes apparent that Fundamentals is just as much about Trevor’s coming of age as it is about Ben’s. Just as Ben helps Trevor overcome his monotonous routine of waffles, TV and obscure landmark researching, Trevor helps Ben overcome his all-consuming grief. Through a mixture of sarcasm and sentimentality the two bond quickly, with Ben eventually persuading Trevor to go on a road-trip to actually see the obscure landmarks he obsesses over. It’s on this road trip that Ben and Trevor meet Dot (Selena Gomez), a runaway hitchhiking to make a new home for herself, and Peaches (Megan Ferguson), a pregnant military wife returning home to give birth – both with their own histories that unfold within the film. Again, hardly controversial, but each actor brings a charm and humanity to their characters that makes it nigh impossible not to like them and, perhaps more importantly, the film.

Rudd, an actor who I still know best from his role in Clueless as Cher Horowitz’s step-brother/love interest – only in the 90’s – is wonderful as Ben and his chemistry with rising star Roberts is key to Fundamentals’ success. Ben developing a fatherly affection for Trevor is psychology 101 but Rudd ensures that this development is real – cheesy but not insincere. Roberts too masters the clichés of his character with ease and grace and both Gomez and Ferguson prove themselves as actresses more than capable of depth and comedy. Slim Jims, a cow and a pit likewise help Fundamentals effectively strike that balance of heartbreak and humour that good indie coming of age films master so well. Where the film lacks, however, is in its idealised vision of DMD – Trevor, although wheelchair bound, seems far more able-bodied than most sufferers of DMD and, like most films with disabled storylines, Fundamentals feels like a lost opportunity to cast a disabled actor in a disabled role. Once more suggesting that we are more comfortable confronting disability on screen than in day to day life. To quote Dot and much of the disabled community – ‘I call bullshit on this’. This issue is too often discussed but not confronted. Hopefully in the coming years this will change.

Nevertheless, in spite of this, Fundamentals is still a great film with hilarious and touching script-work and performances from both its writers and its cast. It also acts as the perfect launchpad for Selena’s adult acting career and the perfect mirror to her own coming of age, as she uses her power as the most followed person on Instagram to choose roles – and create music – that genuinely resonate with her. Fundamentals reminds us that we can come of age, not just once, but at many stages in our lives and it will no doubt resonate with many more than just myself and Gomez as it becomes available on Netflix this week.

Sam Prance

Sam is the Editor-in-Chief of PTL. He likes adapting surnames into brand names and pretending to be professional. His possibility model is Janet Mock and he turns to Beyoncé interviews for guidance on the regular. Sam tries to make out that he has his shit together but more often than not can be found crying watching Desperate Housewives reruns. Some episodes are really sad okay.

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