‘Fatherhood’ movie review: A portrait of paternal devotion skewed by Kevin Hart’s PR machine

While the true story of ‘Fatherhood’ is deeply touching and empowering, the film that inevitably became ‘image rehab’ for lead actor Kevin Hart is saved by commendable performances from the women

The pandemic got men around the world talking about fatherhood, specifically what it means to be a dad in 2020 and 2021. So the timing of Kevin Hart-starrer Fatherhood is significant. The Netflix film – based on the real-life story of Matthew Logelin – gives Hart a chance to show off his serious side once again after The Upside.

Fatherhood follows Matthew Logelin whose wife passes away shortly after the birth of their daughter. Logelin is faced with not just grief but also new parent challenges he must work through as a single father.

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Though audiences are not given much of a window to connect with Logelin’s late wife Liz, her loss resonates through much of the film as it should, particularly when he takes on the typically maternal tasks of doing his daughter’s hair for school.

Said daughter is played by Melody Hurd, who is ‘one to watch’; the young actor tackles the complex role of a growing girl who has never met her mother and is very close to her father. Playing Maddy, her chemistry with Hart is tangible, meeting his parental concern with her sassy wittiness. It is through the more heart-wrenching moments that Hurd truly shines. If you do not watch for Hart, do watch for Hurd.

Alfre Woodard, a favourite of mine, plays Marian, Liz’s mother. Woodward breathes life into every role she takes on – and her work in Fatherhood is no exception. Marian, having lost her daughter after what is meant to be the happiest day, wants Logelin to move away from the city and to their home in Minnesota, which Logelin resists at every turn. She balances equal measures of empathy and stubbornness, as well as heaps of love, ultimately making her an audience-favourite.

I was excited to see DeWanda Wise as Logelin’s confidant; her portrayal of Erin Kennedy in Someone Great was dazzling, proving she is a scene-stealer by talent and makes the most of her stock role. In real life, her Fatherhood character marries Logelin but Wise does a great job in closing in a role that is an independent woman and a mother figure to Maddy. In fact, more than Hart, Wise and Hurd have a back-and-forth that is fun to watch.

A diluted experience

The film’s meaning is diluted by the Kevin Hart PR machine, following his half-baked apology for his antiquated views on the LGBTQ+ community. Of course, there’s a scene in the film where his daughter wants to wear trousers to her very binary uniformed school, but Hart (more than Logelin) succinctly responds that it is 2021 and that should be the least of a school’s worry. While Hart’s performance is commendable, the project has wafts of ‘image rehab’ coming off it. Die-hard Harts (as Kevin Hart fans call themselves) would probably not make much of this.

Audiences can tell that Academy Award-nominated director Paul Wietz (of American Pie and About A Boy fame) poured a lot of heart and soul into Fatherhood. Every scene has been carefully thought out and the film did not look like it was dragging its feet. Weitz does a great job of ushering in humour through Logelin, Oscar (Anthony Carrigan) and Jordan’s (Lil Rey Howery) camaraderie.

Frankly, if someone else was cast for the role – whatever their fame scale may be – Fatherhood would have been infinitely more wholesome… that is, not to say the film does not have its special moments. While the premise of the story is empowering, the film is saved by commendable performances from the women.

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