Fatherhood review: Kevin Hart comedy drama is full of clichés but still packs an emotional punch
It's not the most original, but this Netflix movie still works thanks to a believable dynamic between Hart and young star Melody Hurd.
Film fans will largely be familiar with Kevin Hart for his overtly comedic roles, but he moves into more dramatic territory with his performance as a single dad in brand new film Fatherhood, which arrives on Netflix this Friday (18th June). There's nothing particularly original about this rather cliché-ridden film, which is directed by Paul Weitz (American Pie, About a Boy) and sees Hart star as Matthew Logelin, a widowed father left to raise his daughter on his own following a devastating incident. But there are still enough nice touches – and enough chemistry between the major players – for it to pack something of an emotional punch.
After briefly introducing us to Matthew and the love of his life Liz (Deborah Ayorinde) the film quickly arrives at its tragic inciting incident. Shortly after giving birth to their baby daughter Maddie, Liz dies as a complication of childbirth – with a tearful Matthew informed of the news in the hospital corridor, without even getting the chance to say goodbye. This is not the first film released on Netflix this year to feature a tragic birth scene, of course, and many viewers will be reminded of the far more accomplished, and rather more traumatic, opening to Pieces of a Woman – which made a headline set-piece out of a child-birth gone wrong and spent the rest of its runtime ruminating on grief.
Fatherhood takes a different tack, and while it's perhaps not true to say that the film completely passes over Matthew's grief about the loss of his wife, it's far more concerned with his struggles in raising the child on his own and the relationship between him and his daughter. Various obstacles present themselves to him as he sets about his task; Liz's mother Marian (Alfre Woodard) wants him and Maddie to move back to their previous home in Minnesota, his boss isn't keen on him bringing the infant into the office ("this is a place of business, not a place of babies"), and the all-female new parent group he attends initially rejects him, explaining that they are a group for mothers and not fathers.
This first section of the movie is enjoyable enough, and features some moderately humorous if unoriginal gags – Hart playing basketball with used nappies (or diapers, to use the American), for example, or he and his friends trying to sing the baby to sleep in Barbershop Quarter style – but it's when the film moves into its second half that it really finds it feet. Roughly 50 minutes in, the narrative jumps forward several years, with Maddie now a school-aged child, played by Melody Hurd (who recently appeared in Amazon Prime Video series THEM). Hurd is absolutely brilliant in the role – it's a lively, soulful performance from the young star – and the dynamic between her and Hart is really well-played and extremely believable. Hart himself is also in fine form, turning in a likeable performance that proves he has real chops when it comes to dramatic acting.
There are a handful of really great scenes in this second half – one in which Matthew asks Maddie to pick out a piece of jewellery from his late wife's box, for example, and another where Maddie sadly observes her friend getting lovingly tucked in by her mother at a sleepover – and the addition of DeWanda Wise as Matthew's new love interest Swan adds a new layer to Matthew and Maddie's relationship. There are also solid supporting turns from Lil Rey Howery as Matthew's loyal friend Jordan and from Anthony Carrigan as his colleague Oscar, while Alfre Woodard is as good as you'd expect as Matthew's mother-in-law Marion.
The film is undoubtedly a little saccharine and on the nose in places – and its ending is perhaps a little overplayed – such that it would be easy to dismiss the whole thing as rather trite. But the believability of that dynamic between Hart and Hurd really pulls the audience in and make it difficult not to be at least a little moved by the evolution of their father-daughter relationship. So while nothing about the film, in terms of its narrative or its filmmaking, is particularly adventurous or groundbreaking, this is still one that's worth tuning in for.
Fatherhood is streaming on Netflix from Friday 18th June 2021. Looking for something else to watch? Check out our guide to the best TV series on Netflix and best movies on Netflix, or visit our TV Guide.