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Paul Rudd and Selena Gomez bring novel to life in ‘Fundamentals,’ which starts streaming Friday

Craig Roberts, Selena Gomez and Paul Rudd
Craig Roberts, left, Selena Gomez and Paul Rudd hit the road in “The Fundamentals of Caring.”
(Annette Brown / Netflix)

A man who’s lost everything he ever loved in life begins a new job as a caretaker for a cynical teenager afflicted with advanced Duchenne muscular dystrophy. It’s not the kind of plot that lends itself naturally to comedy.

But novelist Jonathan Evison managed to make readers laugh — and cry —with his critically acclaimed 2012 novel, “The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving,” which told the story of caretaker Ben Benjamin and his reluctant ward, Trevor, as they take a road trip across the country.

And on Friday, Paul Rudd, Selena Gomez and Craig Roberts bring the book to life in a film adaptation, “The Fundamentals of Caring,” which first screened at Sundance in January. It debuts on Netflix on Friday.

“It’s sweet and funny,” author Evison told The Times by email.  “The dictates for a 300-page novel and a 95-minute film are just so different, it is amazing that any film can do a novel justice. My greatest hope is that the film leads people back to the book, because the book speaks a language of loss that is hard to capture in an hour and a half.”

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Rudd (“Wet Hot American Summer,” “Ant-Man”) plays Ben, and Roberts (“Submarine,” “Red Oaks”) stars as his ward, Trevor. Selena Gomez is featured as Dot, a runaway who befriends the two after Ben decides to take Trevor on a road trip. 

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Author Jonathan Evison said he “couldn’t be happier” with the casting of the movie based on his novel.
Author Jonathan Evison said he "couldn't be happier" with the casting of the movie based on his novel.
(Keith Brofsky / Algonquin Books )

Evison “couldn’t be happier” with the casting. “Paul Rudd ostensibly plays me — how could I not like that? He’s better looking, funnier and everybody loves him,” he said. “I’m just a fat writer in my underwear, drinking beer in my garage most of the time. Paul Rudd is an upgrade, for sure. And Craig Roberts reminds me an awful lot of my dear friend Case Levenson, whom the character of Trev is based on — so that’s very gratifying.

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The movie came into being thanks to writer and director Rob Burnett (“Late Show with David Letterman”). In an interview with ComingSoon.net, Burnett said he fell in love with Evison’s book as soon as he read it. “Jonathan Evison did such a great job dealing with such difficult subject matter, and he never leaned into the sentimentality of it,” he said. “I was super-attracted to the notion that you can tell a story that is bathed in tragedy as a comedy.”

“I think Rob did a nice job capturing the rapport between Ben and Trev,” Evison told The Times.

If all goes well, “The Fundamentals of Caring” won’t be the last movie based on a Jonathan Evison novel to hit the screen. Focus Features optioned Evison’s 2015 novel, “This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance!” in October.

Evison is certainly hoping “Harriet Chance” makes it to the big screen. “I’m told it’s a pet project for one of the bigwigs at Focus,so hopefully that means they will be tenacious in bringing it to fruition,” he said. “One thing I learned watching Rob tackle the process is that seeing a film to completion is an arduous process, strewn with pitfalls at every juncture. I feel really lucky to have had the experience. Everybody involved was really gracious. I’m just keeping my fingers crossed, and counting my blessings.”

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Jonathan Evison gets in touch with his inner 80-year-old woman for “This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance”

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