Fatherhood

★★★

I’m not the world’s biggest Kevin Hart fan by any stretch of the imagination. I’ve never watched any of his stand-up specials. I’ve never seen either of the “Ride Along” movies. I know him best as a member of the recent “Jumanji” franchise’s ensemble (the dude did some truly inspired work impersonating Danny Glover in the second installment) and as a supporting player in Judd Apatow and Seth Rogen’s output from the mid-to-late aughts and early 2010s (“The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” “Drillbit Taylor,” “The Five-Year Engagement,” “This Is the End”).

I may actually be the world’s biggest fan of director Paul Weitz. His 1999 directorial debut “American Pie” is a nostalgic favorite of mine. I’ve probably seen it no less than 25 times. (I realize the picture is problematic in certain regards and couldn’t be made today the way it was then, but that doesn’t diminish my love for it.) A few years later Weitz dropped the awesome one-two punch of 2002’s Nick Hornby adaptation “About a Boy” and 2004’s “In Good Company” (a truly underrated movie featuring awesome performances from Dennis Quaid and Topher Grace). I kinda lost track of Weitz after 2006’s dismal “American Dreamz” having never watched his follow-ups “Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant,” “Little Fockers,” “Being Flynn,” “Admission,” “Grandma” and “Bel Canto.”

Hart and Weitz have now teamed on an adaptation of Matt Logelin’s “Two Kisses for Maddy: A Memoir of Loss and Love” entitled “Fatherhood,” which will be available to stream on Netflix beginning Friday, June 18. The dramedy (heavy on the drama) seems a more natural fit for Weitz’s wheelhouse as opposed to Hart’s.

Hart stars as Matt, an expectant father who alongside his loving wife Liz (Deborah Ayorinde) is preparing for the arrival of their first child. Their daughter Maddy is born prematurely but healthily via caesarean section. Tragically, Liz dies suddenly and unexpectedly of a pulmonary embolism the following afternoon.

Matt is completely lost. His in-laws Marian (the wonderful Alfre Woodard) and Mike (Frankie Faison of “The Wire” and “Banshee”) want Matt to leave Boston and return to Minneapolis where he and Liz grew up. Matt doesn’t want to do this. His work is in Boston (Paul Reiser plays Matt’s understanding but sometimes exasperated boss). His friends (Lil Rel Howery and Anthony Carrigan AKA NoHo Hank from HBO’s “Barry”) are in Boston. Matt and Liz’s lives were in Boston. Matt wants to prove the naysayers wrong by successfully being a single father to Maddy.

We flash-forward a few years, Maddy (Melody Hurd of the “Jurassic Park” short “Battle at Big Rock” and recent, underappreciated slasher flick “Trick”) is now a kindergartener at the Catholic school Liz wanted her to attend. Matt begins making inroads at dating with Swan (DeWanda Wise, the lead on Netflix’s “She’s Gotta Have It” series), which further complicates matters.

“Fatherhood” is executive produced by “Magic Mike” filmmakers Channing Tatum (who was originally supposed to star) and Reid Carolin. The project feels like a mea culpa for the homophobia that got Hart ousted from hosting the 2019 Oscars. (Hart’s Matt defends Maddy wearing jeans to school against a nun who asks, “What if a boy wore a skirt to school?” To which Matt responds, “It’s the 21st century! Who cares?!!!” Hart also sports a skirt in a mid-credits scene.) Hart isn’t especially funny in “Fatherhood” (what few laughs there are come from Howery and Carrigan), but he’s likable and does decent dramatic work. Hart’s casting is ultimately more interesting than Tatum’s would’ve been as it’s an all-too-rare positive representation of black fatherhood in popular culture.

The final product isn’t as slick as Weitz’s films from the early aughts. The script co-written by Weitz and Dana Stevens (scribe of such dreck as “City of Angels,” “For Love of the Game,” “Life or Something Like It” and “Safe Haven”) does the picture no favors. “Fatherhood” did elicit tears out of me on more than one occasion, which seemed to be its primary goal aside from rehabbing Hart’s image – on both fronts I suppose it’s a success.   

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