'Fatherhood' review: Kevin Hart makes leap from comedy to drama, but falls short

The heartwarming film runs nicely, but the plot is all too familiar

FATHERHOOD (L-R): KEVIN HART as MATT, MELODY HURD as MADDY. Cr. PHILIPPE BOSSE/NETFLIX © 2021. 
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Director: Paul Weitz
Stars: Kevin Hart
3/5 stars

As one of the most popular comedians in the world for well over a decade, who has been as successful in Hollywood as he has at stand-up, it makes sense that Kevin Hart has slowly started to pivot to more dramatic fare.

That's exactly what comedians Jim Carrey, Robin Williams, Whoopi Goldberg, Eddie Murphy and Will Ferrell did during their careers, with their more serious turns proving that there was a depth and complexity to their talent.

However, it seems as though Hart isn't quite ready to completely leave the comedy genre behind just yet. That's because Fatherhood, like the 2017 comedy-drama The Upside, in which Hart played a convict-turned-nurse who looks after a paralysed billionaire (Bryan Cranston), aims to be as funny as it is serious.

In Fatherhood, Hart plays recently widowed father Matthew Logelin, who struggles to raise his daughter, Maddy (Melody Hurd) after the sudden death of his wife, Liz (Deborah Ayorinde), just after childbirth.

Over several years we see how his friends Jordan (Lil Rel Howery) and Oscar (Anthony Carrigan) try to help his development, as well as his constant arguments with his mother-in-law Marian (Alfre Woodard), all of whom simply want the best for him and Maddy.

Considering its incredibly dark subject matter, Fatherhood initially does a fine job of toeing the line between drama and comedy. Not only are Liz's death and Matthew's grief succinctly revealed within the opening 15 minutes, but the film gives a sense of the problems that will hamper him as he tries to be a single father. All while still delivering laughs.

The issue is that, as it progresses, Fatherhood is not dramatic enough to truly captivate. It feels familiar, especially when you consider that films such as Jersey Girl, Definitely, Maybe, The Pursuit of Happyness and About a Boy each have similar plots that covered much of the same cinematic terrain.

Hart's performance as Matthew is also a little lacking. He never quite gets to the heart of Matthew's grief. Instead, he merely comes across as forlorn rather than genuinely overwhelmed.

It doesn't help that you can always see Hart searching for a joke. Not only does this repeatedly disrupt Fatherhood's tone, it means that the emotion of the movie is never able to fully resonate. That's not to say that it doesn't make for an enjoyable watch, though.

Kevin Hart plays a single father in the heartwarming film. Netflix
Kevin Hart plays a single father in the heartwarming film. Netflix

While disjointed, its one hour, 50-minute running time plods along rather nicely. More importantly than that, though, is the star-turning work of Hurd as Maddy. Despite only popping up in Fatherhood halfway through, she manages to steal pretty much every scene she's in with her fierce, hilarious and thoughtful portrayal.

Ultimately, though, Hart is the reason why Fatherhood is never able to reach the dramatic heights it is obviously aiming for, and the reason it's never tedious and always watchable. There might be a great dramatic performance in him.

But, if he’s going to find it, he needs to drop the comedy act, and fully commit to being serious.

Director: Paul Weitz
Stars: Kevin Hart
3/5 stars