It’s a tentative bit of Hollywood conventional wisdom: Behind every good man is a dead woman. “Fatherhood,” a new Netflix movie starring Kevin Hart, is the latest confirmation. A film widower, especially one with children, draws on an immeasurable reserve of audience sympathy, giving her the benefit of the doubt far more than any woman, no matter how generous or virtuous or sad.
I don’t mean to suggest that Matt Logelin, the Minneapolis-bred, Boston-dweller tech guy played by Hart, is anything other than the good guy and conscientious father that “Fatherhood” calls him out. The same goes for the real Matt Logelin, author of the memoir “Two kisses for Maddy,” On which the film is based, directed by Paul Weitz, from a script co-written with Dana Stevens. The problem is that Weitz, Stevens, and Hart are so eager to protect Matt from any sign of judgment or conflict that they come close to depriving him of a personality.
It takes some effort to soften Kevin Hart, and he is sometimes allowed a bark of sarcasm or flashes of humor amidst tears, smiles, and very easy jokes about how hard it is to make a crib, a car seat. To set up, open the stroller and change the diaper. When he’s snappy with his friends or testy with his mother-in-law, everyone on both sides of the camera – and on the screen – is quick to make excuses. After some time, this solicitation becomes indistinguishable from self-pity.
The story begins as Matt struggles for words at the funeral of his wife, Liz (Deborah Ayrinde), and then returns to the days leading up to the birth of their daughter, Maddie, and Liz’s death. The child’s grandparents urge him to move back to Minnesota, where they all live, but he insists on staying in Boston and raising Maddie alone. He has two goofy friends, a quirky coworker (Anthony Carrigan) and a bumbling Don Juan (Lil Ril Howery), who clings to his friend and suffers occasional brutal jabs.
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One of Weitz’s strengths as a director—is evident in “About a boy” “in good committee” and “grandmother” – He has a habit of making kindness interesting. He is a dry-eyed sentimentalist, gentle in his derision and reluctant to designate a villain. Everyone is decent in this movie, which is beautiful in its own way, but at the same time wonderful. There is a whisper of tension between Matt and Liz’s mother, Marion (Alfre Woodard), a mostly untold history of mutual dislike that threatens to erupt into conflict.
Likewise, the relationship between Matt and Maddie—who is suddenly 5 in the film’s halfway stage and played by the charming and charming Melody Heard—is as sleek and clean as freshly installed tile. There are calls for the inherent messiness of fatherhood, but the spill is quickly wiped out.
Contrary to what screenwriting manuals will tell you, the absence of dramatic conflict isn’t necessarily a flaw. But there must be something else for the audience to be immersed in, whether it is the flow and frenzy of everyday life or the psychological outlines of individuals and relationships. Despite Weitz’s sensitive direction and a stellar cast—which includes Frankie R. Fesson, DeWanda Wise as Matt’s patient love interest, and Paul Reiser as his patient boss — “Fatherhood” can’t quite deliver.
Rated PG-13. Diaper Humor. Running time: 1 hour 49 minutes. watch on netflix.