Fatherhood Grade: A- By Matk Ziobro
A Tender Movie and an Essential ‘How To’ Guide of Making an Authentic and Believable Picture MZ
The first thing you expect when you hear the name Kevin Hart is usually floor-romping comedy. However, that is the last thing you should expect from “Fatherhood,” Hart’s new comedic drama directed by Paul Weitz and based on the book “Two Kisses for Maddy” by Writer Matt Logelin. This is a touching movie with a strong statement. It’s also the second film I’ve seen (the touching “Instructions Not Included” being the first) that understands that single fatherhood is not a laughing matter. It would have been so easy to plant Hart in a film that lands on pratfalls and gimmicks. The result of the restraint of this film is a performance from Hart that is his best yet, and a complete picture that is heartwarming and real.
The plot of the movie is easily given away in the trailer or Logein’s book—but a quick recap is that Matt (Hart) and Liz (Deborah Ayorinde) are about to have a baby. There’s some jokes abound in the doctor’s office; Weitz wants you to feel that this could be a light film. However, we’ve already seen Matt standing in all black before a church congregation, so we know that Liz has died. She dies soon after childbirth, in a scene that is handled tersely, but still leaves a mark. Matt is heartbroken, and before the reality even sets in he is bombarded with in-laws, doctors, and heartbreak.
The beginning of the movie passes slowly; and as Matt’s mother, father, and mother-in-law soon depart, the reality of single fatherhood soon crashes in.
What works about this movie is it is simply real. It’s almost as if there are three pictures in one: there’s one about Matt’s family and friends whispering how ill-prepared he is to do this, there’s another about the struggle of him dealing with a newborn he’s ill-equipped to handle, and there’s yet a third about dealing with possessive in-laws and, honestly, inconsolable grief. Weitz takes the material he has to work with and makes it stick. He sets up Matt and Liz as a loving couple before tragedy hits; and Matt goes through all the emotions of trying to bring up a daughter (Maddy, played by several actors, lastly Melody Hurd as a five-year-old) that never got to meet her mother while grieving her loss himself. The go to bed overnight with ‘two kisses for Maddy:’ one from dad, and one from mom. This movie stings sometimes.
Hart and company, however, do their best to lighten the mood. Matt’s best friend Jordan (Lil Rey Howery) and co-worker Oscar (Anthony Carrigan) provide some comic relief, as does Hart. A scene where he attends a parental self help group to see how to get his child to stop crying is especially funny, while underlying pain that he feels. But make no mistake: there’s no trace of Stand-Up Kevin Hart here, nor any of his comedic films. He is simply Matt Logelin, and I can only hope some recognition heaped his way come next year’s awards. “I’m a parent,” Hart entreats the group after being told it’s for women only. “And I don’t know what I’m doing.”
The movie’s setting works into the film in some realist ways as Matt tries to navigate his job in IT in Boston—and his chances of a promotion—while trying to care for Maddy. The scenes where he contemplates what’s best for him versus what is best for Maddy are the most powerful scenes of the movie. Through almost every scene you can see the mantle of responsibility, pain, and love written all across Hart’s face. He never breaks character, and makes the film work in ways it wouldn’t have otherwise.
The film’s other players do adequate work in bringing laughs and painful emotions when necessary. The best are Matt’s father (Frankie Faison), his mother (Alfre Woodard), and his mother-in-law (Thedra Porter). These are all loving people with ways of handling Liz’ passing that aren’t always the best, even if they mean well. The film also inserts a love interest for Matt in the form of another woman named Liz (who Maddy and Matt nickname ‘Swan’), played by DeWanda Wise. However, the relationship is handled as a way for ultimate growth, and Wetiz and co-Screenwriter Dana Stevens wisely avoid drama or stereotypes here, when it would have been so easy to do.
But if Hart makes the film, Melody Hurd, as Maddy, builds it even higher. She is sweet, loving, feisty, pained, confused…and, above it all, a kid. I can only imagine the input from Writer Logelin on this front, but the things Maddy says and the things she does are as authentic childlike as you can get and touched me as a stepfather who this movie relates to uniquely. Again, the film sidesteps tantrums and hijinks and focuses on the relationship between Matt and Maddy. It’s all for the best; there are dozens of pratfall, men-raising-children movies if you want stereotypes and tropes. “Fatherhood” is a uniquely-touching picture that should be seen by all, and has nothing in common with them.
I’m sure there are some criticism of the film. Articles online highlight what the movie got right and wrong about Matt’s story, and the film ends in a way that is nothing the opposite side of predictable. But who cares? Watching “Fatherhood,” I was uniquely touched by a movie that takes its time to get where it’s going, presents believable and authentic emotions, and is one of the realer films I’ve seen in some time. Do yourself a favor and watch this film—you won’t be disappointed. It’s currently streaming on Netflix and is worth your time.