Welcome to week two of MD at the Movies, where Joe of Dystrophy Dad and I will be sharing our thoughts on five films starring a character with Muscular Dystrophy. This week we are featuring The Fundamentals of Caring, a 2016 drama/comedy starring Paul Rudd, Craig Roberts and Selena Gomez.
The Fundamentals of Caring is about a young man with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy and his carer who go on a road trip visiting random sights. They both develop a great friendship along the way.
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Emma: Unlike last week’s movie ‘Inside I’m Dancing’, I had a bit of a head start with The Fundamentals of Caring as I had already seen the movie before. Since it had been a few years, I needed to refresh my memory with a second watch (available to watch on Netflix).
I must admit I still enjoyed it the second time around but found myself watching with critical eyes.
Having Limb Girdle Muscular Dystrophy, is often referred to as being quite similar to Duchenne, so when I found out the main character in this movie had the condition I was interested to see how it would be portrayed and whether they would do it justice.
Joe: After last week’s film, Inside I’m Dancing, I went into this expecting something similar but I was wrong. Whilst the humour is similar, our protagonist, another boy with Duchenne, sets off on a journey only on the insistence of his carer rather than under his own agency.
Both of our leads use humour as a coping mechanism, highlighting a trait we all share. Laughing through the pain is sometimes easier than crying through it.
Paul Rudd has great comedic timing, the question was, can Craig Roberts match him? Yes, he can!
Emma: The movie is an adaptation of the book with a similar title, The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving written by Jonathan Evison. It is a heartwarming comedy with light and dark humour whilst addressing topics such as disability, depression, fear, love and heartbreak.
The Fundamentals of Caring tells the story of Trevor who has Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy and carer Ben. They both have their own demons so to speak and decide to set out on a road trip together that sees them build a friendship that they never knew they needed.
Throughout the road trip, they stop off at some of the country’s lamest roadside attractions, including the biggest bovine, with the overall aim to visit the world’s largest hole in the ground. On the way, they meet teenage hitchhiker Dot (Selena Gomez) who Trevor is instantly attracted to.
Dot pushes Trevor to overcome his fears and to live life outside the four walls of his home he has spent most of his life. Having only ever ventured no more than an hour away from home, this road trip is life-changing for Trevor as well as Ben and Dot.
Joe: The plot is rather thin but that’s due to the “road movie” approach and mainly circles around Ben’s trauma and Trevor’s outlook on the world and his fear of it. From their first introduction to the trip itself, it’s clear that both men fulfil a need the other has. They develop a father/son dynamic despite their own protests.
Their aim is to view some mundane sights culminating in the World’s Deepest Pit. Clear symbolism of the mental state of the two men who figuratively want to crawl into a hole.
Along the way we see some interesting sights and encounter the blunt-speaking, truck stop loitering, cigarette-smoking Dot.
Their troupe grows by one more and Trevor confronts an estranged relative before the trip culminates in the most satisfying pee captured on film since Tyrion pissed off The Wall.
There’s little waste here but where there is, it’s apparent. The character of Peaches added no real value in my eyes, other than to cause a misdirect and force a sense of closure in Ben.
Emma: Although I didn’t have a favourite out of the two main characters, I connected more with Trevor for the obvious reason of having a very similar condition. I liked Paul Rudd’s character of carer Ben who was kind and funny but also had an underlying story of trauma and heartache.
Trevor on the other hand initially comes across as sarcastic and rude, which re-emphasises the kind nature of Ben.
Their first introduction is at Trevor’s house when Ben goes to meet him and his mother to interview for the job as his new carer.
One of the first things Trevor asks Ben is “given the opportunity, how exactly would you wipe my ass?”. Ben’s quick-witted but blunt response as to how exactly he would wipe an ass gets him the job with Trevor simply saying “He’s the one”.
This sets the tone for their relationship, but it’s great to see them quickly bond while on their road trip. But before they leave for their trip Ben asks Trevor what he would want to do if he woke up totally fine. “Take a pee standing up” was Trevor’s wish.
From then on, every time Trevor needs to go to the toilet, we see them both struggle in the bathroom as Ben tries and fails to get Trevor to pee standing up.
It isn’t until the very end of the movie that Ben has the most genius idea which sees Trevor have the best pee he’s ever had. I won’t spoil it for you. You will have to watch for yourself.
Joe: I found Ben to be the most intriguing character. He is initially taken aback by Trevor’s overacting, presenting his disability as affecting his speech and muscle movements in a way similar to Cerebral Palsy, whilst displaying apparent sensory overload.
When it’s made clear that Trevor’s only disability, other than Duchenne, is being a bit of an asshole, his preconceptions fade and he realises Trevor is just a person, flawed in his own way.
Ben is struggling with a loss, a loss that has resulted in his life slowing to a halt. As a father, I put myself in his position and wondered how I would deal with such a difficult situation. It then dawned on me that I’d never understand it in any meaningful way. He’s been cursed with a misfortune that I pray I’ll never experience.
This is Ben’s story, potentially more so than Trevor’s. He’s a man who needs to heal, but you know what? In the end, it’s made clear that he can’t heal, as he shouts at Trevor in the middle of a car park. “You can’t fix me!” And that’s true when dealing with such a tragic loss, no one is ever fixed, they just continue living and try to do their best.
This made him more sympathetic and added new weight to every joke in a vast overcompensation for his own sadness.
Emma: The Fundamentals of Caring did a good job of portraying life with Muscular Dystrophy. Did I find it completely realistic? I’m not so sure. There were definitely parts that were true to life for someone with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. Breathing machines, medicines, physiotherapy, a wheelchair accessible vehicle, and assistance with dressing and toileting.
I just wish Craig Roberts who played Trevor had made his movements more realistic for someone with a muscle wasting condition, especially advanced stages of DMD as they clearly stated in the movie, giving his roughly 7 to 10 years left and would be lucky to reach 30.
Trevor was able to lift his arms without much difficulty and we see this several times when he’s eating, high-fiving Ben and doing air quotes. Having friends with Duchenne and my own experience of Limb Girdle, it is not realistic to be able to freely move our limbs as Trevor does.
He was also manually lifted in/out of his wheelchair and on/off the toilet despite there being a portable hoist in his bedroom. As well as sitting unsupported on the toilet and in his wheelchair with no headrest (especially when travelling in the car). These may be trivial, but I think they should have paid more attention to these areas. It is not realistic for someone with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy.
Last weeks Inside I’m Dancing did a much better job in portraying life with a disability in terms of the lack of physical ability the main character with Duchenne had.
Joe: Of the films we’ve watched so far, this is the first one to show the true extent of the condition, we have Trevor’s chair, his CPAP machine and a kitchen cabinet with enough drugs and supplements to give the local pharmacy a run for its money.
Our first interaction with the two leads is an in-depth conversation about how one would wipe the other’s ass. It’s played for laughs here but it’s a true experience that many with disabilities have, highlighting this is important, so prizes there.
As for the CPAP, the machine seemed accurate enough but you don’t wake up with an unblemished face after wearing a CPAP mask all night. I used to work with a guy who had what he’d describe as a tea stain on his face until lunchtime. We also touch on physiotherapy with specific exercises mentioned and illustrated.
I’m not talking from experience but Trevor’s mother discussing his mortality whilst he’s just outside the room didn’t ring true. Those with Duchenne are likely aware of their life expectancy but I’m not certain it’s something their family would casually talk about right in front of them.
Final thoughts – Rating out of 5
Emma: On a brighter note, despite the fear and heartbreak the characters face, it is still clearly a comedy. I laughed throughout the movie, mainly at Trevor and Ben’s attempts to scare the living daylights out of each other. It’s an easy watch that will make you laugh and possibly even shed a tear or two, but ultimately, The Fundamentals of Caring will leave you smiling.
Joe: The film is well-paced, and for the most part well-acted. I couldn’t quite buy the hard edge they were trying to apply to Dot’s character, mostly because Selena Gomez looks so damn young here and the actor playing Bob, who we meet towards the end is the worst actor I’ve seen in years. He’s either bored, high or both.
A slight digression here but during our research we had some difficulty finding movies that covered anything other than Duchenne. This is clearly due to the early onset of the condition and the reduced life expectancy, which lends itself so easily to tell an emotional story. I’m happy that the film didn’t end with death as a quick way to evoke a tearful response. That shows tact and balance with the subject matter.
The writing was competent enough but in many of the conversations, I feel you could have put Ben’s words in Dot’s mouth and had the same result. They have the same sense of humour, which is fine, but there’s no personalisation to it.
This isn’t to say it’s a bad film. I enjoyed myself, had a few laughs and a good cry. It’s absolutely emotional and worth your time but I don’t see myself coming back to this one again anytime soon.
Thanks again for reading! We hope you enjoyed the second instalment of MD at the Movies. Have you seen The Fundamentals of Caring? Do you agree with our review and ratings? Let us know in the comments below.
See you at the movies!