Netflix film “Fatherhood”, which was released on last Friday, somehow feels like an artificial product instead of being a genuine realistic human tale about the difficulties of raising a kid alone. While there are some sincere moments to be appreciated mainly thanks to the good efforts from some of its main cast members, the movie is also often hampered by its rather pedestrian narrative coupled with some broad comic moments which do not mix that well into the overall result, and we just come to observe the story and characters only with mild interest while not so impressed by it.
The story, which is based on Matthew Logelin’s 2011 memoir “Two Kisses for Maddy: A Memoir of Loss and Love”, mainly revolves around the daily struggles of Logelin’s fictional version from raising his young daughter alone without his dear wife. Although he has been grieving a lot over his wife’s death which happened shortly after their little daughter’s birth, Matthew, who is played by Kevin Hart with his usual comic intensity dialed down for looking as serious and ordinary as required, decides to raise his baby daughter for himself, and he remains adamant even when his decision is strongly opposed by his mother-in-law Marian (Alfre Woodard), who really wants to take her little granddaughter to her cozy home in Minnesota because she strongly believes that her little granddaughter needs a mother figure more at present.
Anyway, Marian eventually agrees to give a chance to Matthew despite her skepticism, and Matthew is ready to brace himself for the immediate challenges in raising a baby alone, but, of course, he soon finds himself in a series of difficult situations which turn out to be more demanding than he ever imagined. While he frequently has to calm down his daughter whenever she cries suddenly in the middle of night, he also has to get accustomed to changing a diaper for her everyday, and we are surely served with a few disgusting moments involved with that.
While getting some important tips and advices from those single mothers, Matthew still often finds himself quite overburdened and exhausted everyday, and that soon becomes evident to the boss and colleagues at his workplace, but, fortunately, they turn out to be more supportive than expected. In case of his boss, he lets Matthew have a more flexible work schedule in addition to allowing Matthew to bring his baby to the workplace from time to time, and there is a little amusing moment when he has to soothe his baby again in the middle of a very important presentation.
The movie could have been more interesting if it continued to explore more of many challenging aspects of its hero’s single parenthood, but then the screenplay by director/co-producer Paul Weitz and his co-writer Dana Stevens jumps forward to several years later instead. While Matthew looks more well-adjusted to his single parenthood than before, his daughter Maddy (Melody Hurd) grows up to be a smart plucky girl filled with considerable spirit and personality, and her strong personality certainly causes some stir at her conservative Catholic school when she insists on wearing pants instead of a dress just like any other female students in the school.
I must point out that this could led to illuminating some interesting issues including gender expectation, but the movie only ends up sidestepping these issues while only giving us minor moments of conflict instead, and it is also rather bland and superficial in case of the depiction of the relationship between Matthew and his daughter. It goes without saying that they do love each other as a father and a daughter, and Hart and young performer Molody Hurd did a commendable job of conveying to us their characters’ deep emotional bond, but the movie clumsily pushes their characters into several contrived moments, which do not work well as only existing for generating a mandatory conflict between them later in the story.
Moreover, several other characters in the film are mostly underdeveloped to our disappointment. For example, a subplot involved with Matthew’s possible romance with a nice woman played by DeWanda Wise is trite and predictable to the core, and Matthew’s two close friends/colleagues played by Lil Rel Howery and Anthony Carrigan are no more than unnecessary comic reliefs in the story. Yes, I know that Howery and Carrigan are talented comedy actors, but their characters often feel jarring as behaving like your average cartoonish sitcom characters, and I must confess that I rolled my eyes whenever either of their characters appeared and then said something silly or embarrassing just for giving us some cheap laughs.
At least, the movie is anchored well by Hart’s surprisingly earnest low-key performance, and his diligent acting works best whenever it is complemented by several other good performances in the film. Besides Wise, who acquits herself well despite her underdeveloped supporting character, Alfred Woodard, Thedra Porterand, and Frankie Faison bring some gravitas to the story as demanded, and they ably fill their seemingly thankless roles with each own distinctive personality and presence.
On the whole, “Fatherhood” is a well-intentioned but ultimately shallow mainly due to its maudlin handling of its story and subjects, and you may also question its certain casting choice considering that Logelin is actually a Caucasian American in real life. Sure, it looks like a nice case of color-blind casting on the surface, but, folk, does it actually lead to any substantial racial specificity in terms of story and character at all besides giving Hart a nice opportunity for some serious acting? As far as I can see from the final result, I think the answer it no, and that is another disappointment to say the least.