I’m not the first one to make this joke, but it’s massively unfair that Paul Rudd has only aged a month or two in the last twenty years. As we were watching The Fundamentals of Caring, much like when we watched Ant-Man, I thought he looked exactly one week older than he did when he was guest-starring on “Friends” all those years ago.
While he hasn’t aged almost at all, Rudd has evolved as an actor in interesting ways, something this movie reflects well. Gone for the most part is the overly-ambitious mugging for the camera that was even on display as recently as I Love You, Man, replaced with an empathy and subtlety that makes him even more likable and relatable to the audience than he was before. Instead of being the class goofball, he’s the guy who’s going to get the laugh at the bar but also be there when you’re out of work and just need to vent.
The Fundamentals of Caring has Rudd as someone reeling from a personal tragedy and avoiding the unpleasantness of his life, namely a divorce he refuses to finalize. Unable to move on with his life or put a cap on his previous life, he takes a job as a home health aide, working with Trevor, a teenager with muscular dystrophy who’s never looked beyond his own four walls. Convincing Trevor there’s more to the world than what’s on TV, the two of them set out on a road trip to see unusual attractions, hooking up with runaway Dot (Selena Gomez) along the way, the three of them helping each other out and bonding as a trio against the rest of the world.
Based on the marketing campaign, I was expecting a mostly dour exploring of grief, disability and other serious issues with maybe a laugh or two thrown in to keep things from getting too dark. Instead, the movie is a mostly bright, hopeful and unexpectedly funny story about breaking out of your personal rut and finding joy in the little things in life, even if it’s just a Slim Jim.
The movie kept surprising me. Stories like this have, I thought going in, a playbook they follow that takes the viewer on a certain familiar path. But at almost every opportunity when I thought things were going to go in one direction they went in another. There were a half-dozen moments where I shook my head in wonder that X didn’t happen, despite it being what any other movie would do.
If you watched the trailers and thought The Fundamentals of Caring looked maybe a little too depressing for your current mood or tastes, give it a look. It will likely surprise you in pleasant, uplifting ways. It’s available for streaming on Netflix now.