At The Movies With…
Lady Beverly Cohn
The storyline in “The Fundamentals of Caring” is not original. Written and directed by Rob Burnett, it is based on the novel “The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving” by Jonathan Evison. We saw a similar treatment of the subject of a severely handicapped person, whose caretaker changes his life, as well as his own, in “The Intouchables,” a French film dealing with that theme, as did the subsequent “The Upside,” the American version of that film. One might ask why was this theme repeated successfully in three different films? The reason is a similarity in the humanity of the characters. Based on actual events, we witness the angst of two deeply troubled people, each of whom experiences renewal and redemption through each other.
In “The Fundamentals of Caring,” released by Netflix in 2016, Ben, stirringly played by Paul Rudd, is a lost man. He is a father who is no longer a father, a writer who no longer writes, with a wife who no longer wishes to be his wife. Faced with his tattered life, Ben decides to train as a caregiver and after completing a six-week session, applies for his first job as caretaker to Trevor, a severely handicapped young man with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, brilliantly played by Craig Roberts. His no-nonsense English mom Elsa, skillfully played by Jennifer Ehle, is both a registered caregiver and manager of a local bank.
On interviewing Ben, she is uncertain as to whether or not she should hire him because her 18-year-old would be his first case. Confined to a wheelchair, potty mouth Trevor, is angry, frustrated sexually, and tries to intimidate the applicant by rattling off unpleasant requirements of the job. Ben stays centered even when Trevor taunts him, “You’ll have to wipe the shit from my ass,” replying, “I’ll do whatever is necessary.” Satisfied, he tells his mom to hire him. In the beginning, the relationship is not easy. Trevor is angry most of the time, barking orders, and sticks to a rigid daily schedule. He occasionally feigns choking which scares the hell out of Ben, who later does an one-upsmanship. Realizing that his ward is living a life of not-so-quiet desperation, he proposes a road trip. At first Trevor’s mom says no because of the amount of meds he’s on as well as his sleep apnea machine. However, with assurances from Ben that he will take excellent care of him, she relents and off they go in the handicap van to visit The World’s Deepest Pit.
During the first part of the trip, Trevor remains rigid and the verbal fencing between them continues. He remains unwilling to try any new foods and definitely turns down a Slim-Jim (beef jerky.) Ben tries to get him to eat French toast instead of his daily waffles, but to no avail. That is about to change as while stopping at a diner, they spot a sexy young girl named Dot, perfectly played by Selena Gomez, a run-away who is trying to hitch a ride. Trevor is clearly attracted to her and Ben tells him to offer her a lift, which he chickens out of doing. Back in the car, a short time later, they encounter her again, and this time she climbs into the car with them. She’s rather sardonic, smokes, and matches Trevor’s potty mouth with a preponderance of “F-bombs.” Behind the mutual rough exteriors, the seeds of young love are sprouting.
Next up is a pregnant young woman named Peaches, beautifully characterized by Megan Ferguson, who is standing next to her stalled car. She is on the way to her mother’s home to have the baby and she shares that her husband is on his second tour in the military. Ben invites her to join them and now the four of them are off to their destination. On the way, Trevor shares that his father left when he was three-years-old when he found out about his disorder and that the only communication has been letters that he never opened. They all encourage a visit to the car dealership where his dad Bob (Frederick Weller) works. It is not a successful encounter as the dad says that he never wrote those letters and that Trevor’s mom did. He offers money, which disgusts his son who turns his wheelchair around and leaves angrily, demanding to go home. However, the girls persuade him that they have to see the big hole and off they go.
One evening, in a motel, Trevor works up the nerve to ask Dot to have dinner with him. It’s a charming scene of two teenagers having dinner and chatting away. In another scene, Ben and Trevor arrive at the site of the biggest bovine in the world. Unfortunately, the beast is upstairs there is no elevator. Ben becomes indignant and accuses the owner of violating the Americans With Disabilities Act and that he was going to report him. The owner figures out a solution, which involved carrying the wheelchair up a narrow flight of stairs and thus Trevor saw this gargantuan cow.
Things are going smoothly when Peaches suddenly goes into labor with the outcome successfully in Ben’s hands. The new mom and her baby are whisked off by ambulance to the nearest hospital and Dot reunites with her father, played by Bobby Cannavale. He had had been following the van throughout the trip, with Ben thinking it was a process server hired by his wife.
In an earlier conversation, Ben asked his charge what he wants to do more than anything. His answer was “I’d like to pee standing up.” The resolution of that dream is one that will have you cheering. And, in my opinion, is why we have seen a variation on this theme several times. We all need something to cheer about, don’t you think?