Fatherhood (2021)

Movie Info

Movie Info

Director
Paul Weitz
Run Time
11 hours and 49 minutes
Rating
PG-13

VP Content Ratings

Violence
0/10
Langage
2/10
Sex & Nudity
1/10
Star Rating
★★★★4 out of 5

Relevant Quotes

May those who sow in tears
    reap with shouts of joy.

Psalm 125:5
Matt, baby Maddy & mother-in-law Marian visit a pediatrician. (c) Netflix

Appropriately this new Kevin Hart film opened during this year’s Father’s Day weekend. Were it not for a brief bedroom shot it would make for ideal family viewing, with its tender depictions of a father-daughter relationship. Director and co-writer Paul Weitz’s adaptation of  Matthew Logelin’s 2011 bestseller Two Kisses for Maddy: A Memoir of Loss and Love is far from perfect, being pretty predictable as to how it will end, but the warm chemistry among the cast make it a pleasure to watch.

In the first section the camera switches between the pain-filled present and a blissful past. Matt (Kevin Hart) stands tongue-tied by grief in church before a congregation of loved ones. In the past he has found his soulmate in Liz (Deborah Ayorinde). The two are joyfully looking forward to the birth of their first child, a daughter the substitute gynecologist blurts out. But because she is worried by test results, the birth is to be by Caesarian. All goes well, and Liz gets to hold their infant daughter. However, she collapses shortly thereafter, dying as a result of a pulmonary embolism. Matt is so traumatized that about all he can say at he funeral is “This sucks.” He is present in body at his crowded house where the post funeral reception is held, but not in spirit as he shuns the crowd and seeks to be alone. Both his own widowed mother Anna (Thedra Porter) and his mother-in-law Marian (Alfre Woodard), believing him too immature to care for a baby while working, offer to take the little one back to Minnesota. Matt has plenty of self-doubts, but Maddy is his one remaining connection with his beloved Liz, so he determines to maintain custody. Strong willed Marian persists, so Matt does promise that if it looks like he cannot make the little one happy, he will bring her to Minnesota where she will have a network of family support.

Kevin does have a network of three friends, his drinking buddies Jordan (Lil Rel Howery) and Oscar (Anthony Carrigan), but at first they too do not believe he is up to the task of raising a child. Oscar and Matt work at the same firm where Paul (Paul Reiser), his boss struggles with the ways in which the baby impinges on Matt’s work—either at home or at work she at first cries most of the time. The frazzled Matt, unable to sleep because of the crying, seeks out a parents’ support group. In a funny scene, they all cringe when he peeks through the doorway, all of them being women. Persisting in finding a solution, one of them reveals the baby probably has colic (something this reviewer remembers well from our second daughter’s colic giving us little rest at night for the first 6 weeks of her life!).

Matt survives a number of travails, ranging from the expected foibles about diaper changing to almost being fired because of Matty, and then there is a time jump to Maddy being of kindergarten or school age. He takes her to the Catholic school in which Liz had intended their child be enrolled. Now Maddy is portrayed by Melody Hurd, an appealing child actress who avoids a Shirley Temple cutesiness. She might be young, but she holds up well in every scene with adults. Indeed, her chemistry with Hart is a joy to watch in scene after scene when there is just the two of them. The pair’s rebelliousness come out when Maddy’s insistence on wearing the pants that her dad has always dressed her in runs up against the nun’s dress code. Feigning lateness, Matt drives away before the receiving nun can explain the dress code to him. Later, when one does explain the rules, Matt says to Maddy that they “don’t need no stinking rules.” Maddy, of course, is too young to know that this is a paraphrase of the famous line from Treasure of the Sierra Madre line about badges, but she heartily concurs with the sentiment. She dons an appropriate blouse and jacket but continues to wear her pants to school, which leads to gender taunts from some of the boys.

Matt’s friends hope and scheme for him to meet a new woman, and, of course, she does. Her name also happens to be Liz (DeWanda Wise), going by the nickname of Swan. She seems perfect, treating Maddy with respect and affection. The “Boy meets girl, Boy loses girl (temporarily)” formula kicks in, along with the discouraged Matt agreeing to turn Maddy over for a while to his mother-in-law. When Matt regains his self-assurance and returns with Maddy at his side to seek Liz’s forgiveness, I think you will love her response, one indicating that she is indeed the woman both of them need.

The cast is excellent: Melody Hurd is absolutely delightful as Maddy, bright and funny without being obnoxiously so like so many TV brats with their funny one-liners.  The two actors playing the Lizzes, Deborah Ayorinde and DeWanda Wise, also deserve credit for their thespian skills—Ms. Ayorinde convincing us Matt’s plenty to cry for (“sow in tears”), and Ms. Wise that he now has much to be thankful for (reap with shouts of joy). Tell me that Alfre Woodard is in a film, and I will not be able to stay away from it, no matter how mediocre the rest of the film is, and this one is definitely not mediocre. She conveys a mother’s deep concern for daughter and granddaughter without falling into the stereotype of the mother-in-law jokes. And when she at last compliments Matt, it is an emotionally moving moment.

If, like me, you thought of Kevin Hart as merely a comedian suitable for such forgettable bits of fluff  as the Ride Along series, be sure to see this. There are laughs in the film, but he also registers grief and anguish. He portrays well a very flawed man struggling toward maturity. If it were not for a brief shot of him and Liz in bed after a night of love making, I would have no hesitation in recommending this for the whole family. As it is,

parents comfortable about answering questions about relations between men and women will probably have no problems with the film. Kids will love the conclusion, and adults, though dubious about the reality of Matt’s decision in the airport, will still appreciate the “all’s well that ends well” windup.

 This review will be in the July issue of  VP along with a set of questions for reflection and/or discussion. If you have found reviews on this site helpful, please consider purchasing a subscription or individual issue in The Store.

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