In case you haven’t noticed, this little streaming service called Netflix has been slowly taking over the world of film and television. Not satisfied with just streaming existing movies and TV shows, CEO Reed Hastings decided it was time to move into original production. It started a couple of years ago with the ambitious revival of Arrested Development, the phenomenal Fox comedy that was killed off in 2006 after three excellent seasons and somehow managed to get the entire cast back for more episodes. Once that happened, the sky was the limit.
Their impressive run has included a lucrative contract with Marvel for its Defenders series (Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist) along with some of the best dramas around like House of Cards, OITNB, Narcos and Bloodline and the continuing revival of classics with Full House and Gilmore Girls. The genius of the revival game is that by renewing these old series, Netflix now owns the entire original run of episodes. This one-time small service is now a financial juggernaut with no thanks to Blockbuster Video. In case you didn’t know, Reed met with then-Blockbuster CEO John Antioco in 2000 and suggested a partnership to make Netflix their online service and was laughed out of the office. Blockbuster filed for bankruptcy in 2010.
So, what were they to do after proving successful in producing television shows? Produce and distribute movies of course. It started in 2015 with Beasts of No Nation followed by Adam Sandler’s The Ridiculous 6 and this year got into the film revival business with a sequel to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and then Pee Wee’s Big Holiday. After getting on the Ricky Gervais train with his show Derek, they also financed his movie Special Correspondents and his next film David Brent: Life on the Road. While all these films are fun, they are also a little thin on respectability. After doing dark television drama so well they needed a movie for grown-ups to prove they were serious about films. Enter ‘The Fundamentals of Caring.’
Based on the novel, The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving, the film was shown at Sundance where Netflix secured distribution rights. The story is about an out-of-work writer who takes a job as a caregiver to a teen with Muscular Dystrophy and they embark on a road trip together. It looks and feels just like the indie film it is but Paul Rudd brings a certain credibility to his funny and heartfelt performance. The film was adapted and directed by Rob Burnett, the long-time Executive Producer of David Letterman’s late night talk shows as well as Worldwide Pants, the production company that brought Everybody Loves Raymond and Ed to network television.
The brilliance in this film is how it never turns into a sad, tear-jerking or depressing story despite the subject matter. There is a lot of drama but it gets inter-cut with streaks of subtle comedy which kept me engaged the entire time. I actually believed that Ben (Rudd) and Trevor (Craig Roberts) were on this journey together. Another reason I may have been drawn to this film is because I actually have a friend who has been wheel-chair bound most of his life from this exact disease and the portrayal of the situation was completely accurate: he is a regular guy with limited movement.
There is always a preconception that someone in a wheelchair is constantly suffering, either mentally or physically, which is definitely not the case judging by my friend. He has one of the dirtiest minds in the world and makes more jokes about vaginas than anyone else I know. The way Ben and the rest of the characters speak to Trevor shows they are very comfortable with his situation and don’t see him as different. That is why the comedy in this film works so well, especially the self-deprecating jokes about being handicapped. Also, the conversations felt very real. There is a discussion of not knowing how long Trevor will be around as Ben explains that Trevor “will be lucky to make it to thirty” which is exactly what my friend was told many years ago (he turned 39 a few months ago and is still going strong) proving that a sense of humour can help you live much longer.
While Netflix didn’t technically produce this film they should get a lot of credit for bringing it into the mainstream and getting way more eyes on it than it would have gotten in a theatrical run. I don’t know if this film will make it into any of the categories at the Emmy Awards but in my opinion, it certainly deserves to be in the conversation.
I wonder if John Antioco enjoyed it?