FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO HAVE NOT SEEN FATHERHOOD, THIS IS A NON-SPOILER REVIEW.
As far as Netflix Original Films go, we haven’t gotten a whole lot of material in the form of “dramedies”. The streaming giant is planning on mending that with their release of Paul Weitz’s Fatherhood. Even though you have definitely seen this film before in a different package, the presence of Kevin Hart really makes this something special. And even better, this is something that more or less, the entire family can enjoy together.
WHAT IS FATHERHOOD ALL ABOUT?
The film is a simple story of a tragic loss, a father’s love for his daughter and finding strength within yourself to persevere. Fatherhood follows recently widowed Matt (Kevin Hart), as he struggles to bring up his baby girl, who was born the day before her mother’s death. Along the way, he has help from his best friend Jordan (Lil Rel Howery) and his wife’s mother Marian (Alfre Woodard).
NOT MUCH IN TERMS OF PLOT, EH?
Fatherhood is honestly the definition of bare-bones storytelling. There is not much here in terms of plot, but that works in the film’s favor. There isn’t all of this excess drama that can usually muddle movies like this. And although there is a romance, it never gets in the way of the relationship between father and daughter being center-stage. What’s presented here is a straight-forward narrative that rests on the shoulders of a very charismatic leading man.
HOW IS KEVIN HART IN THE LEAD ROLE?
The beloved comedian, Kevin Hart, takes on a much different role here than that of his previous work in Night School and the Ride Along movies. And although he showed us some of his dramatic chops in The Upside (a remake of the far superior The Intouchables), it is in this film that he proves he is a true talent not just on the stage, but on the screen as well. There is such an authenticity he brings to Matt. Every anxiety and worry he has about being a single dad; each moment of success and failure, rings true in Hart’s performance. This is the first time I have seen the comedian submit himself to a character, fully becoming Matt in every moment of the film. And every time he cries, you cannot help yourself, but to tear up with him.
AND THE REST OF THE CAST?
The rest of the cast is also fantastic. DeWanda Wise lights up the screen every time she is in a scene, as Matt’s love interest, who shares the same name as his wife. This character could have come off overbearing or annoying, but Wise’s smile and breezy nature immediately makes you fall for her. Melody Hurd as adolescent Maddy, Matt’s daughter, is sweet in the role and has a real knack for comedic timing. But, it is Alfre Woodard’s performance as Matt’s wife’s mother, Marian, who is the real standout. The veteran actress has not had a meaty role like this in ages, and she chews the scenery every moment she can. Woodard brings an extra layer of emotional depth to the film and it’s in her scenes with Hart that Fatherhood soars.
IS THIS A WINNER FOR DIRECTOR PAUL WEITZ?
Director Paul Weitz has made a name for himself with these very simple dramedies, some better (About a Boy, Grandma) than others (Admission, Being Flynn). But, with the right cast, he really knows how to take a bare-bones plot and make it feel more impactful, by getting the most out of each performer. And in Fatherhood he shows that skill in spades.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE NEGATIVES?
There are moments of this film that feel far too overly sentimental and cloying, that almost reach the territory of emotional manipulation. The movie also features multiple montages at the beginning, that try to throw in some gross-out potty humor and sight gags. While this is most certainly pertinent to the struggles of having an infant, they were not effective in garnering laughs. The toilet humor feels unnecessary, especially when the movie is able to mine a ton of intelligent and pointed humor from the actual anxieties of being a parent. Like in a scene at a “single moms” meeting that Matt finds himself feeling completely out of place at.
IS THIS SOMETHING THE WHOLE FAMILY CAN ENJOY?
Fatherhood is definitely not here to change the game, but it does allow itself to be a showcase for Kevin Hart to flaunt his dramatic chops. He brings so much heart to this film, that you cannot help, but be compelled to root for this man to succeed in his journey of parenthood. And although there are some curse words sprinkled throughout and scenes of tragedy, this is a fantastic watch for families to enjoy over the weekend, for some laughs and for some tears.
Fatherhood will be Streaming on Netflix, Friday June 18th.
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