Freaks on the road (The Fundamentals of Caring movie review)

One of main rules that a professional caretaker must accepts says that you can’t help anyone if you are not able to put yourself together and glue the broken pieces. Caretaking cannot be a remedy for your own problems – the weaker other should never be used as a cure for an internal mess of the one that is offering help. In Ron Burnett’s movie, “The Fundamentals of Caring”, this based rule seems to be broken in a very beginning. The opening scenes that are composed as a prelude, which presents the situation and condition of the main character, Ben Benjamin (very good Paul Rudd), suggest that the depressed and enormously sad protagonist is the one that needs help.  Nevertheless, Ben gets a job of a career of Elsa’s (charming Jennifer Ehle) son, Trevor (great Craig Roberts), who suffers from muscular dystrophy. When we find out that Ben has lost a son his motivation becomes ethically ambiguous, but the protagonist – in one of the most powerful scenes of the entire movie that realizes schemes of both – romantic comedy and road cinema – will makes us sure that caretaking is his job, and – contrary to the initial appearances – not an egoistic form of self-therapy.

Benjamin, who used to be a writer, during the six-week long course of caretaking, learns that a carer’s task is to help, a not to make friends. Burnett’s movie shows that theory usually goes hand by hand with practice and – as it easy to guess – Ben and his patients build a very special relation that changes lives of both of them. What’s important, “The Fundamentals of Caring” may sound like a banal constructed of clichés that are supposed to make the audience cry, but – fortunately – the director doesn’t go that road and instead offers a romantic comedy in which humour (sometimes deeply black) is the more important than sentimental pictures.

First meeting of Trevor and Ben is ridiculously funny and becomes a preview of the poetics and climate of the entire movie. The boy on the wheelchair goes crazy and rides madly around the room making inarticulate noises. Ben seems to be pretty confused and asks Trevor’s mother if it’s the smell of his aftershave that annoys her son. The situation is grotesque not only because of absurdity of this question, but – above all – because Trevor is faking and on purpose making a fool of his career-to-be. The whole movie is composed of stereotypes (not only of disabled people, but also of those who cannot work through trauma of unexpected and unfair lost) that are being deconstructed with power of irony, dark humour and unrefined language.

We meet Trevor as an ironic young man who is using his disability as an excuse for rudeness and who is stuck in his sphere of comfort. With a help from Ben we discover that the boy’s monotony and self-oppressive routine (everyday looks exactly the same and even a small change in his menu or in a schedule of TV-shows can  cause a panic attack) is not only a symptom of disease or a way of dealing whit overwhelming unfairness of the universe and taking control of life that was stolen by disease, but also, or above, an effect of Trevor’s mother fear that radiates on her son’s world. Ben manages to convince both of them that the boy can see something more than the walls of his room, for example at least a few of kitschy attractions that he has on his ironic map of dreams like the biggest caw or the deepest world’s hole. That’s how the actual action starts and the movie turns into a classic (but neither boring nor obvious) road cinema.

Disabled Trevor and emotionally broken Ben on their way will meet other outsiders that don’t belong to the normal world and more or less obviously rebel against its law. Dot (great Selena Gomez) – a young girl with unkempt language, huge heart and pretty rebel look is the first one to join them. Soon also Peaches (wonderful Megan Ferguson), a sweet pregnant lady that seems to be a little detached from reality, will jump into their van. Together they create a funny, but also extremely empathic and supportive team that together fight each other demons. What’s important, we don’t see theatrical gestures and dramatic metamorphosis, but small changes that cause smiles. The strongest part of “The Fundamentals of Caring” is its irony and lack of pathos. Trevor, when being asked what he would do if he was able to walks, says that he would to pee on standing. And he does.