Fatherhood starts with an unimaginable loss. Matt (Kevin Hart) and Liz (Deborah Ayorinde) are in the hospital to give birth to their first child. The birth goes well, but soon after, Liz suddenly dies from a pulmonary embolism, a blood clot in her lungs, that leaves Matt devastated and alone to raise his newborn daughter Maddy. Combined with pressure from his mother in law, everything about life looks difficult and bleak, but Matt resolves to raise his child the way that Liz would have wanted.
The opening scenes, cutting back and forth from Maddie’s birth to Liz’s funerals, let you know exactly what kind of film this will be and that Kevin Hart –a man known for being funny– has some dramatic chops, too.
The rest of Fatherhood follows Matt as he navigates, well, fatherhood. At first, as a single dad to a new baby, and after a time jump to a school-aged Maddy, now played by Melody Hurd.
Hart and Hurd are joined by a cast of great actors, including Lil Rey Howery and Anthony Carrigan as his closest friends Jordan and Oscar. While the film is billed as a comedy and is brim-full of comedic talent, it’s actually surprising how sincere the film mostly is. Sure, everyone gets time to say a funny thing, but this movie is a drama first, and it’s always great to see a film where a man’s friends rally around him in these situations (my personal favourite bit of which is including Maddy in their poker games).
Also around are Alfre Woodard and Frankie Faison as Matts in-laws, with Woodard taking on the role of overbearing parent and Faison being the sounding board. Woodard gets the most screen time as the one with the most vocal doubts of Matt as a parent, but you can tell (especially later in the film) that it comes just as much from a place of grief as Matt’s devotion does.
A film like this ultimately comes down to the actors playing the parent and child, and Kevin Hart really nails it. He is funny where he needs to be, but grief-stricken and conflicted is where Matt lives, not only because of the death of his wife but because of self-doubt. Hurd, who you may have seen in Battle at Big Rock, is also great as Maddy. Maddy is headstrong and smart, so maybe she doesn’t have to do a lot of acting.
Fatherhood has been delated several times and was originally scheduled to be a theatrical release before Netflix acquired its rights. I think that’s a shame as it’s the kind of film that could do well in front of as many eyes as possible on the big screen. It’s heartfelt, and while its happy-sad tone might not bring you to tears, you’re guaranteed to smile by the end.
Fatherhood premieres on Netflix on Friday, June 18th.
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