Fatherhood (2021)

“Raising a child…that’s an all-day, all-night affair.”

Fundamentally honest at its core and built on the hopeful ideal that our progeny can and should both be better and do better, Fatherhood is a film that’s able to properly convey its message even when the service is a little sloppy and a bit unpretty. The only persistent problem was that the movie has no consistent tone. It tries its best to dance between the maudlin, the drama, the romance and comedy of the story all in the span of 110 minutes, and while there’s plenty to like about a film I’d absolutely recommend, there’s still so much it could’ve done better. I’m not a father yet (although I sincerely hope to be one day), and I imagine that Fatherhood nevertheless nails its messy portrait of parenting in that regard. It’s difficult and you try to patiently persist.

I was never quite sure what Matt Logelin (Kevin Hart) did to make a living, and it’s one of the reasons why his character feels so thinly drawn. He seems to be involved with some sort of sales, requiring pitch meetings and some traveling, making his circus act at home juggling both parental roles to his infant daughter Maddy (who is eventually excellently played as a youngster by Melody Hurd) all the more challenging. Matt never imagined himself as a Dad, let alone a single parent. Nor did the people around him. He wants to be the father figure he never had, to make his late wife Liz (Deborah Ayorinde) proud, and to prove everyone wrong. It’s a tall order.

Based on a true story, Fatherhood is at its best when Matt is playing the game of life, doing his duty to lead by example in the kind of dual-role job that is too often unfairly and rarely highlighted by men of color in cinema. The film justifies itself then and there, and makes for a movie which celebrates its characters on the screen and the real people in the audience who will feel seen for the first time in a long time. Kevin Hart does some of his best dramatic work since The Upside, and it helps to have one of the world’s most popular and widely known entertainers spearheading a project this intimate. People will watch the film because his name is attached, and I think it’s just good enough that they’ll take something of value from the experience of watching this story. It hits and matters where it should most.

The embattled office environment doesn’t quite work as an antagonist, nor does Matt’s unbearable self-doubt or his close poker buddy confidants, but all of the questioning is answered by the renewed love interest Lizzie (DeWanda Wise), who’s affectionately coined as Swan to separate past from present. She’s fun, kind, bright and so naturally maternal. When given her time and reciprocated adoration, she brings and adds what the film would’ve otherwise been missing without her presence. Fatherhood can be too dour for it’s own good, but when it picks itself up and grants itself the opportunity to explore the space of its multi-faceted love story, it proves to be quite redeemable, and in that same vain quite commendable. This one is well worth checking out digitally.

“Welcome to not knowing the right thing to do.”

Rating: 3 out of 5

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