Kevin has the Hart to be serious and funny as a father raising a little girl.
Kevin Hart tried to take on a more serious role in “The Upside,” the Hollywood remake of “The Intouchables.” He was fine in that film for merging comedy with drama, instead of only doing his “Ride Along” schtick, but it still sold itself short. He is a brilliant and flexible comedian, so I’m willing to give him second chance to expand his horizons, not just for voice acting, but to prove he’s more than meets the eye.
Now, streaming on Netflix, he gets that second chance with “Fatherhood,” in which he plays an African-American version of blogger, author, and public speaker Matthew Logelin. This what we wanted out of “The Upside,” an emotional and hilarious film about a newbie father learning the ropes of raising a little girl. As I was viewing this, I was reminded of “Instructions Not Included,” the most popular comedy in Mexican history, which I disliked because of its lame attempts to be longer and more dramatic than its dumb sense of humor. “Fatherhood,” directed by Paul Weitz, does it just right.
I mean, yes, you get some routine situations involving relationships, parenting lessons, and the father and child disagreeing, but still, you have enough humor and heart to see the movie’s true potential.
The movie is based on his memoir, in which he loses his wife Liz (Deborah Ayorinde) after the birth of his baby girl Maddy. He refuses to move back home, and both his mother Anna (Thedra Potter) and mother-in-law Marion (Alfre Woodard) have to stay to make sure he doesn’t screw things up. He tells them he doesn’t need to stay for him, but Marion tells him that if he can’t handle raising baby, he moves back home with them.
He struggles to raise her with all the crib building, diapers, crying, and vomiting-all the challenges of raising a baby. Then, years later, Maddy (newcomer Melody Hurd) is old enough to turn on the coffee maker and attend the religious school her mother wanted her to go to. And she’s also old enough to realize she wants to be happy and not worry about the same problems. She prefers to wear Bumblebee underwear and jeans, and wants to see more of her grandparents and new companions. Matt also wants her to be happy, as well, which continues to tackle with our emotions.
Among the supporting actors, Lil Rel Howery and Anthony Carrigan co-star as Matt’s buddies- Jordan, who chooses to say “mother fudger” in front of the baby, and Oscar, who works in the same architect firm as Matt. The main protagonist is also able to get some support from both his nice boss (Paul Reiser) and father-in-law (Frankie Faison). And he’s is able to have a romance with Lizzie (DeWanda Wise), an animator on an adult Irish cartoon, whom he likes to call Hank, because she shares his dead wife’s name.
Hart delivers his best performance in years, because of how he looks inside him and believe he can portray characters outside his comedy realm. There are moments when he provides some big laughs, and moments when we really acknowledge his character’s pain. He’s also able to connect with little Melody Hurd, who spirit reminded me of how good Jaden Smith was in “The Pursuit of Happyness.” And the supporting performances from Wise, Howery, and Woodard are all entertaining in their own unique perspectives.
Even if we can pretty much guess the outcome of this movie, “Fatherhood” doesn’t succumb to the cliches and keeps us involved with its laughs and sweetness. It would be derivative if I keep kept repeating myself, and I apologize. But you have to admit: “Think Like a Man Too,” “Ride Along 2,” and “Night School” were all lousy and mean, though I was able to find the good in “Central Intelligence,” “The Secret Life of Pets,” and “Captain Underpants,” in recent Hart examples. “Fatherhood” is not obligatory, it’s not stupid, and it’s not boring. It’s a window of opportunity for Hart to explore his options, and reveal his full potential. Yes, he can still be funny, and I still do, but he can also be the against-type actor like Adam Sandler or Robin Williams.
Streaming on Netflix.