The Fundamentals of Caring

LetterboxD review link

Netflix is on a laser-focused, single-minded mission. They want to create as much content as possible that will appeal to as wide a subscriber base as possible. They want to invest in original content, heavily, to decrease their licensing costs. They want to use data to create profiles of films, actors, genres, topics that will give viewers a mix of things they know they’ll like. My first glimpse of this was a few years ago when the first season of Orange is the New Black premiered. In it, they had a small part for an Ira Glass type character. In the instant that that character showed up, I felt watched, I felt seen (but not in a good way). I realized immediately that they knew I - a subscriber, young, urban, educated, male - would point at the TV and say “hey, look, it’s kind of like Ira Glass!”

The Fundamentals of Caring is another of Netflix’s formulaic original features. Whether its episodic TV shoes, or feature films, Netflix is combing its trove of archival content and creating new original content that will soon replace it. Like Garden State? Or Short Term 12? Or What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? This movie might not be as good, but it’s heartfelt and witty, like those others. And it has Paul Rudd! You like Paul Rudd, don’t you? And oh yeah, Netflix already paid for it. So it’s all profit after a while.

This is a fantastic way to build a business. But it’s not such a great way to build art, unfortunately. The whole time I was watching this movie, I was thinking, this is unobjectionable. It is saccharine. And now I think that’s exactly what Netflix wanted me to think. Come get your sugar water.