Recalling any particular moment or memorable line from The Fundamentals of Caring becomes a struggle mere hours after the credits have rolled. It’s not a fundamentally bad movie- it’s just so painfully unremarkable. It’s tonally consistent, but never bold; charmingly pleasant, but never truly witty; structurally sound, but never narratively adventurous. Netflix’s latest feature release is certainly a step above some of their other, Adam Sandler-led offerings, but it’s unlikely to justify paying for the subscription service.
The concept of two characters being forced to work/live together —first at odds, but eventually discovering some common ground and typically becoming friends/lovers—is not a new idea. This whole shtick has become old hat at this point, and The Fundamentals of Caring does nothing to freshen up the formula. The movie concerns Ben (Paul Rudd), a former writer, who takes a job working as a caregiver for the wheelchair-bound Trevor (Craig Roberts). The admittedly clichéd Odd Couple dynamic forms the meat of the movie, and becoming invested in their budding friendship is relatively easy.
A road trip across the United States visiting various roadside attractions ignites the spark for Ben and Trevor to start to see eye to eye. As far as plot structures goes, an expansive cross-country trip bringing two characters together is about as original as a third-act twist in an M. Night Shyamalan film. I suppose at least The Fundamentals of Caring is consistent in its use of overused tropes; there isn’t a character or story beat that hasn’t been recycled countless times in other (usually better) movies.
Though none of the characters on offer are especially compelling, it’s Trevor who leaves the biggest impression. This is thanks in large part to him facing the most adversity in a film all about characters facing internal and external struggles. Craig Roberts is gifted most of the film’s best lines, and he does a great job of endearing the audience to Trevor. Sure, he’s a smart mouth, but the world has dealt him a crappy hand and his frustrations at this are understandable and relatable. Like everything in The Fundamentals of Caring, his character arc is predictable but still enjoyable enough, particularly his rapture when he discovers the simple joy of a Slim Jim on the open road.
Paul Rudd is unfortunately underutilised. Not in the sense that he doesn’t get enough screen time (he features in almost every scene) but rather that his comedic talents are wasted. There is perhaps only one scene, revolving around the aforementioned meat snack, where Rudd gets to flex his improv muscles. It’s probably the funniest in the whole movie. The rest of the time Rudd’s ability to connect with an audience is relied upon; the actor’s general likeability really helps sell a quite unoriginal character.
The Fundamentals of Caring is rather light on supporting cast members, instead choosing to place most of the focus on Ben and Trevor. This is a good thing, because the secondary characters on offer are dull at best. Selena Gomez (yep, she’s trying to act again) plays a runaway rebel, Dot, who’s left home for some typically edgy nonsense reason. The romance between Dot and Trevor feels overly convenient and not in the least bit genuine. A pregnant hitchhiker, Peaches (Megan Ferguson), is also thrown into the mix for very little reason. Her character doesn’t even provide a setup for some attempts at humour; instead she just sort of sits in the back of the car looking slightly less bored than the audience.
The kindest thing that can be said in favour of The Fundamentals of Caring is that there’s nothing egregious about it. It’s the sort of movie that is just about passable for a lazy afternoon indoors. But that’s about the peak of its success; expecting anything more substantial than mere serviceable entertainment is a fool’s errand.