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Hollywood Insider Fatherhood Review, Kevin Hart, Black Fathers

Photo: ‘Fatherhood’/Netflix

Directed by Paul Weitz, Netflix’s ‘Fatherhood’ doesn’t reinvent the genre, but it doesn’t have to. It gets by on its simple narrative with a crackling, well-written script and stellar performances from all parties involved that help take ‘Fatherhood’ to a new level. Based on the 2011 memoir, Two Kisses For Maddy: A Memoir of Loss and Love by Matthew Logelin, ‘Fatherhood’ might not be a shot by shot remake of its source material, but it manages to capture the spirit of Logelin’s memoir while filtering it through the earnest perspective of the African American experience.

‘Fatherhood’ is a tear-jerking film that’s powerful enough to hurt, in a good way, but provides enough laughter and smiles to comfort you before, during, and after the movie’s darker moments like an emotional hug. But apart from just being an excellent movie, it might feature Kevin Hart’s strongest dramatic performance to date, revealing to his empire-like fanbase that the comedian is just as good at making you cry as he is at making you laugh.

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‘Fatherhood’ Is Good At What It Does

The beginning of ‘Fatherhood’ feels like the end of a romance film we never get to fully see. It starts off with Logelin, played by Hart, standing on top of a church altar mourning Liz Logelon, his wife who passed away moments after giving birth to their daughter Maggy Logelin. From there, the film follows Hart’s Logelin as he attempts to balance out his professional life with being a single, widowed father; two halves of a divided world he has trouble reconciling. Helping him find this balance are his mother Anna and mother-in-law Marion, played by Thedra Porter and Alfre Woodard respectively, who both become substitute parents to little Maddy.

But Hart’s journey to ‘Fatherhood’ nearly comes to a premature end when Logelin’s mother-in-law encourages him to leave his high-paying tech job in Boston to move back to his hometown in Minnesota. Once there, Anna and Marion would be better able to assist Logelin to raise Maddy the way she should be raised, relieving Logelin of the burden that comes with parenthood. Unfortunately, since his job, friends, and heart are all in Boston, Logelin declines the offer, and decides to remain in Boston to raise Maddy on his own. 

‘Fatherhood’ is a very slice-of-life kind of story. There aren’t too many twists and turns, there’s no point in the story where Weitz is trying to trick or outsmart the viewer. It’s a straightforward narrative that follows the day-to-day challenges of child-rearing, and in that respect, it works. It’s not driven by plot. Although the plot is there, it takes a backseat to character and emotion, allowing the two to steer it to where it needs to go without too much interference.

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It’s a film that doesn’t move until certain choices are made, similarly to how our lives are really the sum of the decisions we’ve had to the situations we find ourselves in, which helps ground ‘Fatherhood’ firmly in reality. There are no wacky hijinks or over-the-top shenanigans, no epic escapades, ‘Fatherhood’ shows that the adventures of a single, widowed father doing his best to be there for his child can be as compelling a narrative as any soap opera. 

‘Fatherhood’ doesn’t resort to cheap tactics to manipulate your feelings. Even if it’s trying to make you feel a certain way, the important thing is that it doesn’t come off like it is. Some might find their emotional scenes too heavy-handed and blunt, but it’s a film about a father suffering grief after losing his wife, so of course, melancholic scenes are to be expected. But ‘Fatherhood’ doesn’t dwell on Logelin’s sadness. Is it there? Of course, and in every scene, Liz’s absence is felt. But life goes on. We don’t get long drawn-out scenes of Logelin lying with his grief, too heartbroken to climb out of bed. He doesn’t have time for that, he can’t pine over the dead when he has a child’s life to groom, and the movie pushes forward with emotional resilience while still keeping his late wife in the back of all our minds. 

Fortunately, ‘Fatherhood’ is as naturally funny as it is dramatic, bringing enough effective laughs to counter the tears you might find yourself holding back. The jokes aren’t forced, and more importantly, they don’t offset the tone of the movie. The humor is mature and subtle, it relieves the gravity of Logelin’s situation without negating it, giving you time to heal between each tender scene.   

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A Beautiful Ode To Single Black Fathers

It’s almost a shame how difficult it is to pinpoint a film that features strong African American single fathers raising their children in such a nurturing environment. One of the only films that spring to mind is John Singleton’s hood classic ‘Boyz In The Hood’, where Laurence Fishburne plays a relentlessly firm father determined to guide his only son down a path more promising than the neighborhood they’re in. But even films like ‘Boyz’ come with a heavy asterisk. Taking place in Compton, an area where crime thrived in the nineties, the film gave young black men a loving single father figure while raising his son in a crime-heavy world full of gang violence, corruption, and drugs as a catch.

Apart from that, there are many films featuring a dysfunctional Black family where the mother is around but the father is absent, which is another archaic trope in African American storytelling. As important as those stories are, ‘Fatherhood’ offers us a narrative stripped of all these painful themes that at one time defined African Americans in the media. ‘Fatherhood’ gives us a professional single black father raising his daughter around other successful black professionals without being weighed down by the adversity plaguing our less fortunate communities. Hart isn’t trying to protect his daughter from the harsh realities of a corrupt neighborhood, he’s simply trying to raise his daughter period.

Seeing this kind of representation on a mainstream medium was touching, personal, and a long time coming. But the beauty in ‘Fatherhood’ is how it avoids being obvious in its message. It normalizes Hart’s situation, acknowledging its own black identity without being over the top with it, and it’s a subtlety that I’m very much grateful for. ‘Fatherhood’ is a tribute telling all the single black fathers out there raising their children that they’re seen and appreciated as much as their single mothers, and it’s a trend I hope to see more of in the future.

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Kevin Hart Has A Future Beyond Comedy

This isn’t Hart’s first attempt at a dramatic role, but it might be his best. He proved himself to be convincing as a dramatic actor in 2017’s ‘Upside’, a film where he stars opposite Bryan Cranston as a caregiver to a wealthy, handicapped businessman with who he later forms a powerful bond. In ‘Fatherhood’, Hart is determined to show off his range again and proves that his performance in ‘Upside’ wasn’t a fluke. Matt Logelin might be Kevin Hart at his most restrained. The often loud, brazen comedian has learned quite well how to tell a story through his facial expressions and his demeanor, rather than his voice which is the polar opposite of the roles Hart is known for tapping into.

He dials it back, not enough to where he comes off as wooden, but enough to where he comes off as real. He slips comfortably and quietly into Logelin’s skin and channels all of the grief, sadness, and perseverance that comes with losing a loved one without being obvious about his struggles. When Hart does make us laugh, it catches you off guard, a testament to his skill as an actor by making you forget he’s a comedian, someone you’d expect to provide you nothing but laughter. Kevin Hart showed up to ‘Fatherhood’ bringing his A-game, and although Matt Logelin is much less fun than some of his other more lighthearted roles, it’s a side of Hart that I can’t wait to see more of. 

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Lil Rel Howery and Anthony Corrigan bring the majority of the laughs to ‘Fatherhood’ as Logelin’s best friends,  Jordan and Oscar. Lil Rel in particular is as laugh-out-loud funny as he always is, but respects ‘Fatherhood’s’ subject matter enough to express more range in his performance. He comes off as the charismatic, playful, yet ride-or-die supportive best friend that he’s known for playing. But here his services are very much needed as he’s the perfect counter to Hart’s emotionally heavier character, and tries to pull both Hart, and the movie itself, out of its emotional slump before it becomes too comfortable in its own somberness. Anthony Corrigan’s Oscar helps keep ‘Fatherhood’ lighthearted and approachable with his own brand of comedy.

At times it feels like he’s intentionally channeling his character on ‘Barry’, which doesn’t subtract points from the film. On the contrary, the world could use more Noho Hank. Alfre Woodward, who plays Matt Logelin’s Mother in law, might be the MVP of ‘Fatherhood’. She pulls the movie up to her level with every scene that she’s in, with one scene, in particular, being absolutely heartbreaking for the couple of seconds that it lasts. Her presence is powerful but sensitive, caring but stern, and every time she shares screen time with Hart she never fails to bring the best out of the ‘Jumanji’ superstar. ‘Fatherhood’ is truly a collaborative effort with everyone bringing something to the table to help the movie find its best self. 

Cast & Crew: Kevin Hart, Lil Rel Howery, Alfre Woodard, Anthony Corrigan, Melody Hurd, Dewanda Wise

Directed By: Paul Weitz | Written By: Paul Weitz, Dana Stevens, Matt Logelin

By Tony Stallings

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