REVIEW: “Fatherhood” Struggles to Make Ends Meet
Fatherhood, on Netflix, starring Kevin Hart and directed by Paul Weitz (American Pie, About a Boy), is a story about Matt, an up-and-comer in the workplace who finds himself a widowed, single father. Convinced he can raise his daughter while maintaining his work duties on his own he soon realizes it is his community and extended family who guide him through his evolution as a father. While some moments feel real to the world of parenthood, most of the film is like my parenting style--a rough watch to the outside observer.
The movie struggles to deftly handle the blend of comedy and drama, creating a tonally distorted watch. Weitz had previous success with this genre blend in his critically-acclaimed movie About a Boy, which covers similar ground. The problem in Fatherhood is the comedy never feels totally appropriate. I’m all for gallows humor but the manner of Matt’s wife’s passing makes the jokes feel way off the mark. Even this crusty old vet can tell when humor is wildly inappropriate. The movie seeks to make light of the awkwardness of dealing with other people’s grief, which is a real feeling. No one ever knows what to say or how to console someone who has lost a loved one, and the attempt at comedy in this movie only makes those situations feel worse.
The only element that feels more out of touch is the way this movie seems to think fathers operate in the modern world. You would be hard pressed to find many movies dealing with the struggles of parenthood that are more cliché-filled than Fatherhood. This movie is chock-full of dumb dad moments, such as:.
- How do you help your daughter take care of her hair?
- How do you change a diaper?
- What the heck does colicky mean?!
Weitz’s direction takes this movie back 30-plus years. This type of humor was a winner in the 80’s, but it just does not work in a modern movie on parenthood. As a rule, fathers play much more of a co-parenting role than in generations of yore. The concept that dads are just “too dern dumb” to know how to care for and nurture their children is too dated for 2021. As a father myself, I have little respect for movies that continue to perpetuate this myth, especially fathers as upstanding as Matt.
After voicing my thoughts on the troubling cliches of the movie, I must say it did have some refreshing elements sprinkled throughout, although they were too little to make much of a difference. Matt’s father-in-law, played wonderfully by Frankie Faison, is that refreshing sprinkle, an elder statesman that puts the audience at ease the second he comes on screen. While his scenes are often him simply giving life advice that seems obvious on the surface, the words have a certain gravitas coming from his mouth. He’s the one who assures both Matt and us that we may not always know the ins and outs of parenting, but if we’re patient and loving, everything will be ok. That could also come across cliche, but doesn’t when a true character actor of his presence delivers the dialogue.
Kevin Hart plays an acceptable Matt. He never quite gets to be the hilarious ball of energy we’ve come to expect from his stand-up, and he is missing his great partner in crime, Dwayne Johnson. Hart plays the straight man through a lot of the film, which feels like a disservice to the audience. His emotional beats feel less than natural. I think he showed he could be a fine dramatic actor, but it will definitely take some time.
Lil Rel Howery, Paul Reiser, and Alfre Woodard round out the rest of the cast. They manage to supply some of the missing humor and a little more heart to this film, but simply not enough to overpower the tonal disconnection. Overall, this movie feels like it wants to be a full-on comedy with a few beats of drama, but instead it borders on Hallmark Channel a bit too closely.
As a father of four, I understand the struggle of parenthood, especially after this past year, but trying to evoke the difficulties of fatherhood through the prism of dated cliches is just not a struggle with which I can connect. We don’t always know what we’re doing as parents, but we sure do try. This movie tries but even so, we may need to call child protective services. If you’re looking for some light-hearted fare this Father’s Day weekend, you could check out Fatherhood. If I were you, however, I’d stick with The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.