Whenever you’re constantly type casted, you can never grow as an actor. That is the case with Kevin Hart. While some of his comedies are entertaining, most notably the two Jumanji sequels, his acting talent aren’t on display at its full potential. This is why his latest film, Fatherhood, not only acts as a terrific change of pace for the actor, but also shows the world that Hart can do more than loud and crude comedies, but also pours his heart and soul into what can be considered as the best performance of his career.
Based on the book “Two Kisses for Maddy: A Memoir of Loss and Love”, it chronicles the true story of Matthew Logelin (Hart), whom, after his wife (Deborah Ayorinde) suddenly dies a few days after giving birth, must now raise his daughter, Maddy (Melody Hurd) by himself. The task is a rather challenging one, with Matt not wanting external help from his mother (Thedra Porter) and stepmother (Alfre Woodard). He’ll quickly realize, once Maddy grows up, that family is the most important thing a child needs to be properly raised.
In terms of storytelling, Fatherhood doesn’t break any new grounds. It follows a typically formulaic structure in which the main character must overcome, against all odds, terrible adversity, which we’ve all seen before. Everyone, including his friends and his boss (brilliantly played by Paul Reiser), think he’s never going to be able to raise Maddy on his own. He now has a bigger drive to show the world that he’s capable of taking such responsibility, even if the most responsible and caring person is no longer with him anymore. Just by reading this, you can already guess what’s going to happen: there’s going to be some tough times, for sure, but Matt will ultimately do right, not only by his family but for Maddy, by always thinking about Liz (his wife) first.
It’s easy to get upset at someone when you don’t have your “emotional home” by your side. Whenever someone faces a setback in life, which is, unfortunately, inevitable, they always come back to their emotional home, which could be someone or something that cares for them on a deep level. For Matt, Liz was his “emotional home”—he couldn’t do anything without her, and you can clearly see that during the film’s first few scenes, when they learn that they have to get the baby out by C-Section immediately. Their relationship is light and full of life, with Matt always bringing levity to ease their stress, whilst Liz is more focused on taking responsibility. This is why, when Matt receives the most devastating news of his life, he breaks down in inconsolable tears, because he’s lost the most precious human being in his life, someone who was always there for him when everything went wrong.
The first few minutes of the film are also when we see Hart’s brilliant dramatic talents, perfectly blending natural, and composed, comedy with pure emotional levity and human drama. There’s never a moment in which Hart’s comedy feels excessive, as is what he usually brings to his movies, as it always remains perfectly natural, as if he’s using humour to either make sense or lighten the tragic ordeal he lived through. The best example of this would be the banter he uses through conversations with his boss. It’s great to see Paul Reiser in a movie again, and he immediately makes an impression by trying to relate to Matt that he lost his “99-year old aunt”, to which Matt snarkily replies “Wow, that must have been a shock.”
Paul, impervious to his joke, replies “it was.” This is the kind of humour Fatherhood is filled with, and it’s a fantastic change of pace for Hart, who, I believe, needed to break his mold of typecasting in comedies. He will, hopefully, get more dramatic roles like this that amazingly mesh his comedic talents with human levity. You don’t need to be excessive to be funny, and you certainly don’t need to do much when you know where to pull the right emotional strings, which Hart does more than once.
And he’s accompanied by a slew of terrific supporting actors, with Lil Rel Howery doing Hart’s usual schtick instead of him, and Alfre Woodard sharing some of the film’s most impactful scenes with Hart and Melody Hurd as Maddy. Hurd is a revelation here and gives the best child performance of the year since Alan S. Kim melted our hearts away in Minari. She has dynamite comedic timing and forms a wonderfully palpable chemistry with Hart’s father figure. When they argue, it’s quite funny to see, due to Maddy’s boss-like attitude, but it isn’t funny for Matt, who constantly tries to figure out what Liz would’ve done instead of listening to his daughter. It’s a fun dynamic to watch, that makes an otherwise predictable film fill itself with huge amounts of life and compassion.
It’s obviously no coincidence that Fatherhood gets a Netflix release on Father’s Day Weekend, as the film acts as a decent reminder of the hardships of being a father and, especially, raising a child on our own, with no emotional home to go back to. Matt must find a new home, not only in Maddy, but in his friends and family and…who knows…maybe a special someone in his life might show up to bring more gratitude to his life and Maddy’s. It’s not a spectacular film that’ll be hailed as a masterpiece, but it perfectly showcases Kevin Hart’s dramatic talents, as an actor who deserves to be taken more seriously and should get more roles like this one. It’s a great vehicle for him, and I can’t wait to see him diversify his portfolio and bring more emotional levity to a drama hopefully soon. And that’s good enough for me.
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