Upon further review, it has become clear that it is not the fault of the movies acquired and distributed by Netflix for the inconsistency of their original films, but rather the fault of the movies that Netflix produces.
Premiering at Sundance earlier this year, The Fundamentals of Caring (Formerly The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving… ironic, huh) is the perfect film for Netflix. It is funny, but not too outrageous. It is dramatic, but not too heart-wrenching. It is inspiring, but not too sappy. The only extreme that The Fundamentals of Caring takes is its pleasantness. It’s not a terribly overachieving film in terms of structure or tone, but it is the ideal calm and simple movie to watch on your computer.
The plot seems to bear some striking resemblances to Me Before You, with a few core differences. Keep in mind that both films were based off of books, so I think their similar release dates is more of a coincidence than anything. The Fundamentals of Caring features Paul Rudd as Ben, a retired novelist who is going through a bit of a mid-life crisis and decides to be a caregiver. At his first job interview, Ben meets Trevor (Craig Roberts), a young man who is bitter about his physical state and sticks to a strict routine. Trying to break him out of his funk, Ben convinces Trevor to go on a road trip.
Sound familiar? That’s because it is. It’s basically the same narrative structure as Me Before You except that it is a bromance instead of a romance. Oh, and there’s one other key difference. The Fundamentals of Caring doesn’t treat Trevor like a hurt bird or a stupid plot device to help Ben get out of his funk. Yes, Ben gets something out of their relationship, but so does Trevor. It’s mutually beneficial, and so it doesn’t feel nearly as gross as Me Before You does. Of course, there’s always room for improvement, especially when it comes to able-bodied people making films about life as a disabled person starring non-disabled actors, but at least this one doesn’t condescend to disability (again, as an able-bodied person, I don’t have a huge right to talk about these things, so take what I saw with several grains of salt).
The feel of the film itself is actually quite nice. Rudd and Roberts seem to have a reasonable bit of chemistry together, and Selena Gomez’s appearance makes for quite an entertaining trio. The dialogue is snappy and clever, and it is structured and paced to the T. There are nice callbacks and some depth to each of the characters. There’s even a small cameo by Bobby Cannavale. What more could you ask for?
Well… maybe a little bit of heart. Throughout, the film just feels like it’s a little too restrained. The actors are fun to watch, but it frequently feels like the movie used the wrong take. The performances are charismatic but they are also a little too by-the-numbers. There are some moments where the actors shine, but that only makes it all the more disappointing when a moment appears where it feels like the actor has just done one take too many.
I feel like this idea is emblematic of the movie as a whole. It seems to be following all of the steps in the formula, and it doesn’t miss a beat, but there’s a lack of derivation from the formula that holds the film back. As an audience member, you are always somewhat entertained, but never fully enthralled, even when you want to be. Considering that writer/director Rob Burnett used to be a writer and producer of late night television, it makes sense why this movie feels like it’s stuck in a repetitive funk. It’s not as if the filmmakers didn’t care, I just don’t think they cared about all of the right things.