Fatherhood (3 stars)

Fatherhood

Kevin Hart is terrific in this touching dramedy from About a Boy's Paul Weitz

The challenges of parenting have been better and more frankly addressed in recent years and this comedy-drama from writer-director Paul Weitz (American Pie, About a Boy, the excellent Grandma) gets many things right. Focusing on a single dad whose wife dies shortly after childbirth, it should ring true since it's based on Matt Logelin's 2011 memoir Two Kisses for Maddy: A Memoir of Loss & Love. The hook for many will be that it unexpectedly stars comedic dynamo Kevin Hart, taking on his most serious leading role to date.

Hart plays Matt, who we see struggling to give a speech at his wife's funeral at the outset. Liz (Deborah Ayorinde) has died following a pulmonary embolism, leaving Matt to raise his newborn daughter Maddy without her. Considering him too immature to cope, his own mother Anna (Thedra Porter) and his antagonistic mother-in-law Marian (Alfre Woodard) try to persuade Matt to move back to Minnesota from Boston, but he's keen to go it mostly alone, with the help of pals and the support of his boss, Paul (Paul Reiser).

The screenplay is a collaboration between Weitz and Dana Stevens; the latter having worked on some fairly cheesy films, including City of Angels, Life or Something Like It and Safe Haven. Though there's an appealing sweetness and sincerity to many of the interactions, Stevens's influence is evident in the rather manipulative and contrived plotting, which dilutes the impact of Liz's death, almost as if it is too sad for this particular brand of light tearjerker, hastens through crucial elements of the story to get to the uplifting stuff, and throws in some deeply questionable decision-making from Matt in order to put us through the emotional wringer.

Nonetheless, the remarkable authenticity and surprising subtlety of Hart's turn, the likeable and well-chosen supporting cast and the deftly employed and executed humour make this a largely winning and frequently touching effort. It gently evokes Three Men and a Baby, as Matt and his best buddies Jordan and Oscar – played by the always-welcome Lil Rel Howery (Get Out), and Anthony Carrigan – attempt to get to grips with childcare, and indulge in a spot of harmonising over Maddy's crib. There are a number of charming scenes pairing Hart and an affable Reiser, with the pair bouncing very naturally off each other. Melody Hurd is a little firecracker as Maddy at kindergarten age, and if the mighty Woodard is underused then she's still effortlessly formidable. But it's Hart's show in the end and his dramatic chops are a revelation.

Available to watch on Netflix from Fri 18 Jun.

Fatherhood

  • 3 stars
  • 2021
  • US
  • 1h 49min
  • 12A
  • Directed by: Paul Weitz
  • Written by: Dana Stevens, Matthew Logelin
  • Cast: Kevin Hart, Alfre Woodard, Lil Rel Howery, DeWanda Wise, Anthony Carrigan, Melody Hurd, Paul Reiser
  • UK release: 18 June 2021

After the death of his wife, a widower must raise his new baby girl alone. Fatherhood is going to be tough.