Film Review: Fatherhood
Director: Paul Weitz
Temple Hill Entertainment, and Higher Ground Productions
Streaming on Netflix 06.18
Actor-comedian Kevin Hart has a new film, Fatherhood, coming out this weekend. It’s only his sixth major movie in the three-and-a-half years since he was proverbially canceled. He also stars a hit series that just got picked up for a second season.
Fatherhood is based on Two Kisses For Maddie: A Memoir of Loss and Love by Matthew Logelin. Hart plays Matt, the brand-new father of a beautiful baby girl, and is faced with the daunting task of raising her alone when his wife dies the day after giving birth. Matthew and Maddie stick together through thick and thin, despite the fact that no one believes that Matthew can do this, least of all his mother-in-law, Marian (Alfre Woodard, Cross Creek, 12 Years A Slave). Through all of the ups and downs, Matt remains devoted to his little girl above all else, and as Maddie (Melody Hurd, Them, Battle at Big Rock) grows into elementary school age, the bond between father and daughter is tested but endures all obstacles in its path and becomes unbreakable.
Director Paul Weitz—one half of the team behind About A Boy and In Good Company, and the director of Grandma—is in fine form here, guiding the film with an expert hand but having the confidence not to try to get unnecessarily flashy. The screenplay, which he co-wrote with Dana Stevens (For Love of the Game, Life or Something Like It) is compelling, funny and touching. While it’s predictable, it avoids feeling maudlin or melodramatic, and has enough sincerity to make up for its reliance on formula.
Hart is superb in the lead role, getting one of his first big chances to just act without falling back on schtick or hyperactive antics. Fatherhood shows him to be a genuine movie star with the potential for a more diverse career than movies like Ride Along or Get Hard have suggested. It’s not just easy to root for Matt; it’s nearly impossible not to love him.
The chemistry between Hart and Hurd is pure perfection, and Woodard, one of the best actors in the industry, can give a knockout performance with far less to work with than she’s got here. Lil Rel Howery is amusing enough as Matt’s best friend, Jordan, playing a more low-key variation on the same character he plays in everything, and it’s great to see Paul Reiser (Aliens, Mad About You) as Matt’s boss. DeWanda Wise is also quite charming as Swan, Matt’s new love interest. But the movie is Hart’s all the way, and he makes the most of it.
Fatherhood is likely to be one of the bigger sleeper hits of the summer, one that should connect strongly with audiences well enough and with critics who are tired of writing about Kevin Hart being let down by bad material. Critics are likely to embrace Fatherhood for simply not being another unwatchable dud. The combination of heart and Hart is a recipe for instant success, and it will likely stay the top movie on Netflix until the latest big-action vehicle for fellow canceled star Liam Neeson likely bows as well later this month. –Patrick Gibbs