It’s a truth in Hollywood that there’s always a dead woman behind every good man. Its latest affirmation comes in the form of Fatherhood, a new Netflix film starring Kevin Hart. A movie widower, especially one with children, relies on an endless well of pity from the audience, who give him the benefit of the doubt well beyond what any woman — however generous, moral, or heartbroken — can hope for.
I don’t want to imply that Matt Logelin, the Minneapolis-born, Boston-based techie played by Hart, is anything other than the kind guy and responsible father depicted in Fatherhood. The same may be said for Matt Logelin, the real-life author of the memoir Two Kisses for Maddy, on which this film is based, directed by Paul Weitz from a story he co-wrote with Dana Stevens.
Weitz, Stevens, and Hart are so keen to insulate Matt from any indication of criticism or conflict that they come dangerously close to denying him a personality.
Hart is sometimes permitted a bark of sarcasm or a flash of humour among the tears, smiles, and way-too-easy comments about how difficult it is to build a crib, instal a car seat, unfold a stroller, and change a diaper, which takes some effort. Everyone on both sides of the camera — and the screen — is eager to make excuses when he’s snappy with his pals or impatient with his mother-in-law. This concern becomes indistinguishable from self-pity after a while.
The lack of dramatic conflict is not always a mistake, contrary to what screenwriting guides may tell you. However, whether it’s the flow and bustle of ordinary life or the psychological shapes of individuals and relationships, there has to be something else for the audience to delve into.
Despite Weitz’s sympathetic direction and an excellent cast, which includes Frankie Faison as Marian’s patient husband, DeWanda Wise as Matt’s patient love interest, and Paul Reiser as Matt’s patient boss, Fatherhood falls short.