(Spoiler alert: This blog reveals spoilers about the movie The Fundamentals of Caring.)
Upon reading the synopsis of the movie The Fundamentals of Caring, I immediately felt my eyes starting to roll back into my head: Netflix describes the film as “[an] inspirational buddy comedy, [in which] a young shut-in and his caregiver take a road trip in search of landmarks, but end up finding hope and friendship.” Gag me with a spoon. “Inspirational?” “Hope?” It feels like almost every film featuring a disabled character is dubbed, “inspirational,” in spite of the fact that not everything disabled people do is actually “inspirational.”
Despite this inaccurate description, The Fundamentals of Caring is not the typical inspiration porn (in which cripples are given accolades for doing things that non-disabled folks do, such as being in romantic relationships or pooping in toilets) that we often see come out of mainstream cinema. This film is centered around Ben (Paul Rudd) who, after passing a six-week course in caregiving, applies for a job as an attendant. Upon being hired, Ben’s supervisor is Trevor, a teenager with Duchenne muscular dystrophy who uses a power chair.
The Fundamentals of Caring takes us on a trip into the world of the attendant-consumer relationship. Barring a few problematic interactions between Ben and Trevor (namely, forcing Trevor to pee standing up when he didn’t want to), this film accurately underscores the importance of compatibility: Ben and Trevor are both witty, sarcastic and snarky. These seemingly surface-level exchanges lend themselves to a deeper understanding of one another, and it affords Ben the opportunity to better meet the needs of Trevor, his employer. It is through an emotional bond that Trevor learns how to speak to girls, the importance of freedom and independence and that his life could be more than just sitting at home watching television and eating waffles.
Beyond this, and although I am not fond of her character, I am glad that an overprotective parent, Elsa (Jennifer Ehle) was represented. Trevor’s Mom serves to remind us that attendants must often tread the line between the wishes of well-intentioned family members, and the requests of their consumers and supervisors. Such relationships are often a very real part of many of our lives: While family may want to “keep us safe,” it is the job of an attendant to help us live our lives independently. We see this play out in The Fundamentals of Caring, when Trevor and Ben decide to take a road trip, and Ben must first assure Elsa that he has taken precautions to keep Trevor safe.
As a consumer of attendant services, I can attest, the best attendants are the ones that help me live independently: Beyond following my lead, they allow me to get out of my bubble and explore the world. I can go to parties with friends when I choose, go to movies, work… experience life in a way that I would not be able to had I not received attendant services.
It’s sadly refreshing that this movie was able to represent a disabled person without going down the path of the sad cripple with a terrible life narrative. Even after revealing that Trevor was abandoned by his father after finding out his diagnosis… this didn’t feel fake or like a disability trope. This is an example that many movies should take the lead from. I expect to see more realistic representations of people with disabilities after this!
Admittedly, at first I really wanted to hate this movie. People with disabilities are portrayed as “inspirational” far too often and that whole depiction is genuinely obnoxious. But as a person who uses attendant services, I found I could relate to their portrayal of the relationship between supervisor and attendant. Would I have liked a real live disabled person to play the part? You bet. It sends my blood boiling anytime Hollywood casts a nondisabled person in the role of a disabled person. But as far the movie itself? I really enjoyed it.