Directed by Paul Weitz, “Fatherhood” follows Matt (Kevin Hart) as he deals with the loss of his wife Liz shortly after the birth of their child. Faced with the enormous task of raising his daughter Maddy (Melody Hurd), Matt has to navigate parenthood all on his own while being constantly reminded that he may not be adequate for the job. Released on June 18, the film is based on the true experiences of widower Matthew Logelin who recorded the long journey to healing in his book, “Two Kisses for Maddy: A Memoir of Loss and Love.”
“Fatherhood” is one of Hart’s most serious movies to date, tackling the complexities of mature concepts like grief and single parenthood. Along with the weighty subject matter, we see a more nuanced performance from Hart as well. In this film, the comic-turned-actor swaps his trademark, often brash humor for a toned-down, drier wit. While the comedy fails to deliver in most scenes, Hart displays an impressive range of dramatic ability throughout the movie, and his role is definitely one of the only highlights. While perhaps only known as an actor who can inspire laughs, this film proves that Hart can provoke tears just as easily.
The first half of “Fatherhood” is admittedly difficult to get through. As Matt grieves for his wife, he is constantly bombarded by oblivious friends and family members who deliver tone-deaf comments that are almost too painful to watch. It’s not that the actors are failing in their performances–actually on the contrary, Anthony Carrigan and Lil Rel Howery (who play Matt’s friends) are perfectly suited for comedic roles. The issue goes deeper than that, primarily within the writing of lines that are meant to be humorous attempts to console Matt, but instead come off as highly insensitive given the context. Unfortunately, the comedy doesn’t improve much from there, with most of the jokes falling flat down the stretch. Matt’s mother-in-law, Marian (Alfre Woodard), is set up as the antagonist, constantly questioning Matt’s ability to be a single parent. This conflict lacks depth and isn’t strong enough to kindle audience investment in the plot.
However, things pick up slightly in the second half, when Matt is torn between the decision to parent Maddy or entrust her to the care of his wife’s parents, where she would be surrounded by a community to support her. We are also introduced to a new love interest named Swan (DeWanda Wise), and new challenges arise as Matt tries to juggle his romantic life with being present for Maddy. The renewed conflict and romantic complications drive the film to its ending, but perhaps take too much time to do so; clocking in at nearly two hours, the movie feels so much longer.
Despite its shortcomings, there is something about “Fatherhood” which is decidedly feel-good. Buried amidst the comedic misfires and lack of conflict, the film still manages to strike an emotional chord with its target audience. This is largely due to the on-screen connection between Hart’s character Matt and Melody Hurd, who plays the oldest version of Maddy. The scenes where Hart and Hurd are together make the movie far more enjoyable, and it’s a shame that the authenticity found within this father-daughter relationship doesn’t carry throughout to the rest of the film.
“Fatherhood” is available to stream on Netflix.