Kevin Hart fills half of his filmography with comedies with lazy scripts. The other half has dramas that try to have characters with nuance. And sometimes the twain meet. Paul Weitz’ Fatherhood fits within the second category as he plays a version of Matt Logelin, a real life widower and single father who went viral twice. This version of that story takes out the viral parts. Instead, one of the things it focuses on is the awkwardness that people have when someone they know loses someone else. Critics have to give credit to Hart during those scenes. Here, he has to express Matt’s rage while making his character sympathetic to viewers.
Fatherhood has a lot of close-ups of Hart during these emotional scenes, or at least when emotional eventually comes out. Emotions are inevitable and obvious in the life of a widower and father. After all, he’s one of many people who assumed his failure at that job, and another is his mother-in-law Marion (Alfre Woodward). But he gets a stamp of approval from a pediatrician while Marion, who flies all the way from Minneapolis to Boston, is in the same room. Some viewers can be cynical about this but let’s be real, most fathers aren’t good ones and Matt at least passed the test so far.
This is Matt’s story, or at least a version of it. And the movie at least does a decent job in filling the screen, the sets, and the costumes with character. More cynical viewers think that that’s an actor’s job. But there are times when it feels more manipulative than it needs to be. There are a lot of montages here with Matt and his daughter Maddy (Melody Hurd) playing. It’s good that Matt has time to play with Maddy even if he has a tech job. But it makes his ‘fun’ dad thing unique even though half of dads who are present are fun.
Another thing that reinforces Matt’s good fathering skills is a reference to that issue in Hart’s reputation. Maddy’s only support system in Boston other than Matt is his best friend Jordan (Lil Rel Howery). This means that Maddy is going to be a bit of a tomboy who prefers pants over skirts. This goes against her Catholic school’s dress code. The school has to call Matt in to defend Maddy’s wardrobe choices saying that she can wear pants because it’s the 21st century. This is Hart trying not to sound homophobic to save his career. So is it bad that I’m giving him points for kinda trying? Although Matt coming to the rescue for Maddy as her tomboyish ways get her into an accident have mixed messages.
Old controversies become new again, as Hart’s history popped up again either because of something he said on Twitter or because of the impending release of this movie. People are comparing him to Eddie Murphy and Murphy’s newer attitude to his own past. I wish Marlon Riggs was alive enough to see that. I get it, apologizing profusely is hard, even for Canadians. But Tommy Hilfiger apologizes still for something he didn’t do, and it shouldn’t be hard for Hart to do the same thing. Maybe this movie about fathering a girl who wears pants is his weird way of saying sorry.
One of Fatherhood‘s bigger crimes, other than casting Hart of course, is trying to make Marion the closest thing it has to a villain for wanting Maddy to have a big family while this movie has Paul (Paul Reiser), Matt’s shitty boss. It’s as if Woodward put herself in a Kevin Hart movie to punish me specifically for not watching Clemency yet. Despite that, this movie shows potential in Hurd, and at least rescues her from drivel like Them. It’s good for a movie with some comedy to have someone funny in it. Yes, I liked a Kevin Hart movie, take away my gay card.