In an interview with Variety about his The Fundamentals of Caring co-star Selena Gomez, Paul Rudd admitted he had no idea about the scope of her popularity. “It wasn’t until we were filming and I saw thousands of people turning out to try and see her that I realized what a phenomenon she is,” he said. “To see her deal with that kind of fame, I came away even more impressed with her. She’s extraordinary.”
She may well be, but Rudd is no slouch himself. Tom Hanks may be America’s favorite actor, but there’s a strong case to be made that Rudd is his heir apparent. When Fundamentals premiered at Sundance back in January (before being snapped up by Netflix for its VOD premiere this week), writer-director Rob Burnett made his respect for his lead actor clear: “Once you get Paul Rudd you've got a movie."
And such is the case with Fundamentals.
Based on Jonathan Evison’s novel The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving, the film stars Rudd as Ben, a soon-to-be divorcee coping with the death of his young son. To help get back on his feet he earns his caregiver certificate and takes a job with Trevor (Craig Roberts) a Seattle teenager with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy.
Trevor’s drole sense of humor and fierce sarcasm rankles Ben at first, but eventually he begins to give as good as he gets. Before long Ben has convinced Trevor’s mom Elsa (Jennifer Ehle) to let her son accompany him on a car trip through the northwest. Trevor’s bucket list includes a bevy of roadside attractions, including the world’s largest bovine and the world’s deepest pit--not the stuff of legend, certainly, but enough fodder to help make Fundamentals one of 2016’s better comedies.
Burnett’s script is rife with laugh-out-loud moments, but it doesn’t short-shrift in the heart and feel-good departments either. The running gag of Trevor pretending to be in mortal danger. only to reveal he’s crying wolf, is one of the more successful laugh-getters, but there’s plenty of other hilarious moments to enjoy, too, especially after Ben and Trevor pick up foul-mouthed hitchhiker Dot (Gomez).
The easy description is that Fundamentals is a more crass, boys-clubbish Me Before You. Where that film dealt with weighty issues like suicide and depression, Fundamentals keeps things relatively light with a focus on friendship, and even the burgeoning father/son-like relationship, and (sigh) first love. The script does veer a little too far into trope-ville as things start wrapping up with a pretty little bow, but there’s still enough to appreciate (particularly in the fantastic performances by Rudd, Gomez, and Roberts) that the film is able to overcome its own gooeyness.
The Fundamentals of Caring may very well come and go with barely a wimper, and it will probably be viewed with a quizzical “What movie was that?” when folks scroll through Rudd’s and Gomez’s IMDb credits in the coming years, but there’s no question at all about its standing as a secret very much worth sharing.