On its face, the new original Netflix dramedy Fatherhood might appear to be just another Kevin Hart vehicle, a flimsy exercise in slapstick designed to let Hart do his zany, off-the-wall shtick for 90 minutes before wrapping things up in a nice, neat bow and sending the audience on their way. That thought comes to mind because it seems like every single Kevin Hart flick is pretty much the same, just with a new coat of paint for good measure. They hit all the same beats. They utilize the same brand of humour, a brand that’s become a staple of the standup comic-turned-Hollywood megastar and his cinematic exploits. You either like it or you don’t. In general, I count myself a member of the latter camp, and I wasn’t expecting anything particularly different with this one.
I was relieved to discover that, despite its thoroughly generic makeup and lack of anything resembling true profundity, Fatherhood is something with a little more on its mind than the regular Kevin Hart romp, and the usually manic funnyman turns in a surprisingly restrained and emotionally layered performance as a grieving widower thrust into the titular task of parenting a child following the death of his wife in childbirth. It’s heavy stuff, and not the material generally being dealt with when Hart steps in front of a camera. I commend him for broadening his acting horizons in that regard, even if the finished product is still pretty rough around the edges.
The initial mistake that Paul Weitz‘ film makes is not treating the weighty subject matter of its tragic introductory moments with the type of gravitas it deserves. As Hart‘s Matt sulks around his wife’s funeral reception, his supposed “friends” make seriously off-colour comedic attempts that are wildly inappropriate for the setting and just feel tremendously awkward as a result. Even though it’s Lil Rel Howery, a talented comedian in his own right, delivering these cringy lines, it’s hard not to wince at the failed humour nonetheless.
The movie thankfully finds its balance eventually, and the moments of comedy blossom more organically from the dramatic elements of the story as the film progresses. That drama stems primarily from Maddy, Matt’s daughter, who is navigating the perils of childhood with only half a parental unit at her disposal. Matt understandably makes his fair share of missteps along the way as he learns how to become an adequate father without the support of a partner to ease some of that burden. We also see Matt’s bumpy journey on the path towards moving on from the memory of his wife and entertaining the possibility of bringing another woman into his and Maddy’s lives. Enter Lizzie, a woman Matt is set up with by work friends, and an important figure in the grand scheme of the two central characters’ respective arcs.
Everything falls neatly into place by the end, of course. The necessary milestones of a big studio film are hit in predictable fashion, and there’s nothing here that’s of particular note, other than the fact that Kevin Hart seems to be stretching his creative muscles just a bit. The highest praise I can give Fatherhood is that about halfway through, I was struck by how easy to watch it ultimately is. I wasn’t exactly enthralled by what I was watching, but it was perfectly passable all the same. If you’re looking for something to pass the time, you can certainly do far worse.
Comedy, Drama | USA, 2021 | 12 | 18th June 2021 | Netflix | Dir.Paul Weitz | Kevin Hart, Alfre Woodard, Lil Rel Howery, DeWanda Wise, Anthony Carrigan, and Paul Reiser