Fundamentals of Caring – review

However much a film strives to be accurate, there is never going to be a true reflection of reality. And this was the case in the film adaption of Jonathan Evison’s novel ‘The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving’. The story follows Ben Benjamin, played by Paul Rudd, who after suffering a life-changing tragedy becomes a carer for a wheelchair-bound disabled teenager named Trevor Conklin.

Having been involved in the research process prior to shooting, I was keen to see how accurate the film titled ‘Fundamentals of Caring’ would be. In the end I wasn’t left disappointed. Given the disabled teenager, has my progressive, physical condition ‘Duchenne Muscular Dsytrophy’ (DMD) I was asked to offer my perspective on the disability to the actor Craig Roberts playing the character. 

Not all of what happened in the film was truthful though, as it failed to show the average level of care someone with my condition needs and their physical capabilities. For example, a hoist was never used for transferring and it is not advisable for someone in their late teens with the condition to be lifted by a carer. But there was no holding back on showing areas like the importance of daily routines. 

Most from the outside looking in would not appreciate the importance of structure for those with complex medical difficulties but after watching this film they would hopefully have a better understanding. Everyday Trevor follows the same pattern and this is something the carer, Ben, has to get used to. 

The teenager might therefore be seen as someone with a fussy personality, but with the level of support he requires it is necessary to have the same system in place to follow otherwise care becomes disjointed. For example, on Ben’s first day as Trevor’s carer, his mother, Elsa Conklin, meticulously goes through all the medication he requires on a daily basis. 
Obviously the perfect scenario would have been to give a completely accurate picture of DMD, but interest would be quickly lost for wider audiences if the film just focussed on physical care. Anyway, the story was originally written for a book so there was a clear narrative to follow from the outset – the relationship between Trevor and his carer. It was enough for all the different elements of Trevor’s care, from leg stretches to medication to breathing aids, to be touched on briefly. 

Reflected in the opening line, ‘Caregiving is not just about feeding and clothing and cleaning.’, there is a lot more to the role than providing physical support for someone. Having someone to interact and socialise with is just as important. This is exactly who Trevor finds through Ben and after getting to know one another well, they eventually decide to go on a road trip across parts of America so Trevor can see some of the sights he has only heard about on TV. This is also to get him out of the house which only happens for a few hours each week at the park. 

Without his carer though the adventure would not have been feasible. His mother has a full-time banking job and the father left the scene when his son was aged three, just after his diagnosis. There are some with my condition who, with circumstances like these, do not get regular opportunities to go out so it was pleasing the storyline was able to accommodate real-life scenarios. 

Because of the time they were spending with one another, the pair developed a strong friendship, and this was not just a storytelling tool, this is what can commonly happen with full-time carers. From start to finish the film dealt with all the human aspects in a delicate yet powerful way, demonstrating the significance of relationships with carers rather than just what their role is on face value. They forge a relationship that allows them to deal with the intimate parts of Trevor’s care in a light-hearted fashion that embraces rather than saves any embarrassment.

On the retired writer’s first ever interview for a caring role, his soon to be client immediately cuts to the chase with the most decisive question, ‘Tell me, Ben, give the opportunity how exactly would you wipe my ass?’. The reply also fails to beat around the bush, ‘I would wipe it such in a way that when I was done, there would not be shit left on your ass.’ The job is then his. I wouldn’t recommend this strategy but being upfront and honest about your care is necessary. It is something I have had to improve on, but despite having the same condition we are all unique in our personality. Trevor may sometimes come across as rude, but I would argue against this being an outcome of his disability, as he says himself ‘maybe I’m just a prick, with or without the wheelchair.’ 

By fate the different yet equally harsh circumstances bring Trevor and Ben together. One has a disability and difficult family situation to contend with while the other has just been through a family break-up following the death of his child in a road accident three years prior to the new job. And overall I believe it is through their relationship that greater awareness of caring and DMD will be raised. Whether or not you have any knowledge of caring or DMD prior to watching the film, anyone can relate to relationships as most in some capacity have them.

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6 thoughts on “Fundamentals of Caring – review

  1. Brilliant analysis of the movie, much better than my review!

    I was wondering how you would react to the finished project as you were the ‘DMD consultant’.

    It was a fairly good movie, showing Trevor (however briefly) using a ventilator, having medication, personal care etc However, the lack of a hoist was peculiar to me, at Trevor’s age a hoist would be used everyday.

    With only a short movie length, it would have helped the general audience’s awareness of DMD.

    First step! (no pun intended)

    1. Thanks Vikek, I thought your blog also brought up some important issues surrounding the film.

      It was a shame that something as simple as a hoist was not shown but overall I wouldn’t say this is a significant problem with the film.

      You could argue that the main character had DMD so he should be shown as such but the focus was the relationship between Trevor and his carer so it was key for that to be most accurate.

      As I’ve said before I don’t think the novel or films’ main intention was to just show the realities of living with Duchenne.

      The shortness of the film meant the physical challenges could only be dealt with swiftly. Aspects like ventilation and medication were touched on enough I felt. If there was too much emphasis on difficulties then I think this could put the general public off rather than raise awareness. Anyway the film was aiming to demonstrate whatever our situation we all have to face obstacles.

      Yes a good first step would have been showing Trevor using a hoist (like what you’ve done there)!

      From what I said about what to bear in mind when playing a character with DMD, Trevor did appear a bit too independent physically, especially in terms of his head movements. Maybe though I was only talking from my perspective as I am doing fairly well. I’m sure I mentioned the need for a hoist though. Even if I didn’t the initial research should have identified this.

      But it doesn’t bother me too much as I enjoyed the film. An enjoyable film with a dynamic storyline should raise good awareness. Would the hoist have raised better awareness of DMD, I don’t think so. From what I saw that wasn’t the only innacurracy as well.

      1. Thank you Sam for the comment. I do think it was a good film but as a fellow DMDer it’s easy to pick on certain aspects but for the general population it is a glimpse into carer / patient relationships.
        Cheers!

  2. Hi Sam,
    Enjoying reading your blog posts, some great stuff. What brilliant work you did as an advisor for the film. I continue to impress me!
    Your old teacher!

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