Netflix UK film review: Fatherhood
Ivan Radford | On 20, Jun 2021
The words “Kevin Hart” conjure up thoughts of controversy and – more pertinently – complaints from him about said controversy. It’s fortunate for him, then, that he stars in Fatherhood, a new film that lets him play soft, kind and cuddly. On the one hand, it’s a film that could almost be designed to redeem his public persona. On the other hand, it’s a film that features a genuinely warm and understated performance from Hart.
He plays Matt, the husband of Liz and new father to Maddy (Melody Hurd), who is suddenly bereaved of the first after the birth of the second. And so he finds himself trying to raise a kid on his own, while dealing with grief and everyone’s else’s low expectations. An immature guy finding maturity by becoming a father? It’s not exactly a new idea, and Fatherhood struggles to find much new to say. The jokes on offer mostly revolve around poop, school uniforms, poop, eccentric babysitters, poop, vomiting and poop. And did you know that babies poop?
The film is based on Two Kisses for Maddy: A Memoir of Loss and Love, but expands its scope beyond the early baby years to follow Matt and Maddy as she grows up and goes to school. That means a chance for Hart to spark chemistry with DeWanda Wise as Liz, a potential love interest Matt is set up with by his friends. Their dating is sweetly observed, and explores questions of building a family from fragmented parts – Alfre Woodard is wonderfully nuanced as Matt’s mother-in-law, who escapes any obvious stereotypes to bring added dimensions to the story’s study of mourning.
But most of all, it’s a chance for the marvellous Melody Hurd to get more screentime, and she makes the most of it, jumping between precocious, sad, angry and funny with an irrepressible charisma. That open-hearted presence plays into Hart’s unguarded performance, and simply seeing the two of them interact sincerely and sweetly is genuinely endearing. It’s a shame, then, that they don’t get more of a dramatic script to wrestle with – scenes in which Matt juggles watching Maddy and doing his office day job, for example, raise lots of questions about parenting in the workplace that go unexplored.
Director Paul Weitz (About a Boy), though, ensures that things don’t descend into mawkish territory, shying away from sentimentality just enough for the middle-of-the-road, low-stakes comedy to be just that: low-stakes and inoffensive, with frequent chuckles rather than laugh-out-loud jokes. The result is less a showcase for Hart’s heart-warming range and more a reminder that he should direct his efforts away from cancel culture complaints and into this kind of work more often.