Kevin Hart brings his A-game with an against-type dramatic performance in FATHERHOOD (2021)

A more dramatic turn for Kevin Hart sees him playing a father who raises his daughter as a single parent following the unexpected death of his wife a day after childbirth. Directed by Paul Weitz, Fatherhood doesn’t necessarily reinvent the wheel, but still manages to put out a sweet, charming and emotional story.

The biggest draw of the film would have to be Kevin Hart’s against-type performance. He’s been appearing in comedies, in more or less the same type of role, for his entire time in the spotlight – so, the fact that he’s going for a role that is (mostly) void of comedy is what peaked my interest. And I’m pleased to say, he delivered a solid performance that gave the story plenty of emotionally resonance at key moments throughout the film. Right from the get-go it’s clear he’s all in on this role, digging deep to sell the emotional moments in what is an especially sombre first act. The audience’s link to the story is through Kevin’s character, so if we don’t feel what he’s going through – none of it works. Thankfully, Kevin is a very convincing cryer – creating that strong emotional link with the audience early on in the film and carrying it right through.

On the other end of the spectrum, despite being much more of a drama, this film is not completely absent of any comedy. Kevin Hart does still get to deliver some neat little one-liners and hit those comedic beats, but it doesn’t detract from the dramatic tone. His comedic moments are spread throughout the film, and he delivers them in a much more subtle way than we’re used to. They’re weaved in to the dialogue and the story in a natural way to bring a touch of positivity and some light laughs to balance out the sadder moments. Where I feel like the humour was misused is with Lil Rel Howery’s character. The creatives did such a great job with getting Kevin Hart into a more layered dramatic role, then almost undid it by having Lil Rel play the straight comedic role usually played by Kevin. Some of his stuff was well timed, but the majority felt quite out of place. It’s nothing against Lil Rel, since I know how funny he is, but this role just didn’t fit with the film’s tone.

Otherwise, the rest of the ensemble cast should be praised for the impacts they have on the film, however minor. Alfre Woodard is a seasoned pro, bringing her A game to literally every single one of her scenes. She shares a number of great scenes with Kevin, both elevating each other in these moments. The young Melody Hurd, who portrays Kevin’s daughter for the latter half of the film, is yet another promising young star. She has this charm that gradually brings more and more light, hope and positivity to the story, making her a stand out.

I mentioned out the gate that the film doesn’t reinvent the wheel… that’s in regards to the story. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a charming and deeply emotional narrative, but when it comes down to the structure and the way it progresses going into the third act – it goes about as you’d expect. You can pick out what the natural turn of events is going to be, and it largely plays out to that tune. I guess the fact that the story was based off a 2011 memoir by Matthew Logelin means that the writers’ hands were tied to an extent, so you can’t put too much blame there. It’s still a good story, it just doesn’t leave much room for surprise.

In the end, Fatherhood is a solid emotional drama with a deft touch of comedy, led by a great against-type performance from Kevin Hart who is the crux of the film. He’s the one who really elevates the emotional impact of the story, while also bringing some subtle laughter here and there. Lil Rel Howery’s character didn’t fit, and the narrative doesn’t really try to do anything new, but it’s still a really good film to stick with the whole way through. It will certainly hit you in the feels and is a very easy watch on Netflix.

6.4/10

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