The comedian Kevin Hart takes a lot of hits on his work from critics, but he banks millions from an immense audience that loves his comedy. Even I will admit that the man is entertaining, a problematic fave for many. In Fatherhood, we see a side of the actor where his comedy cedes the floor to a sometimes sappy, but overall powerful performance. As a widowed father, Hart is able to tap into a part of his skills that we’ve glimpsed before. The film is one that is perfect for family fare for the Father’s Day weekend.
Diving into Some Serious Issues
Fatherhood is also important for the topics it broaches and the care in which they are handled onscreen. Hart plays Matt, a new father to a newborn daughter. He’s widowed after his wife Liz (Debra Ayorinde) dies after childbirth. The film takes a moment here to depict what is normalized for many of us, Black women especially. The doctors at the hospital ignore and dismiss the couple when they come to a check-up. They are easily shunted to a doctor they have never met and who has never met them for the birth. There is a problem, and suddenly as if it’s happening in real-time, Liz is gone and Matt is left to raise a baby girl alone.
Further, into the story, Matt is struggling to manage work and the baby. She has colic, but Matt has no clue as to what that is. He goes to a parenting class where the mothers coldly advise him on colic. This is another issue in our society, the way “parenting” groups are focused on helping mothers who birth the babies instead of helping “parents” in whatever form that takes. Matt ends up raising Maddy (Melody Hurd) with the help and advice of his buddies and coworkers.
Marion (Alfre Woodard) is a grandma who wants Maddy to come with her, exposing the belief that only women can take care of an infant. While we all know that this belief is not true, it still drives much of our society and the way we interact in situations where the mother is absent. Marion isn’t mean about it as you see in similar movies, but she is serious enough to keep Matt on his toes.
Then there is work. Matt finds out the hard way that babies and work life do not mix. Employers are not too keen on babies either. However, Matt’s boss Howard, played by Paul Reiser does accommodate more than most. Childcare joins other themes in this sentimental film, such as grieving while child-rearing, protecting Black girls from unjust criminalization at school. It’s a lot for such a small film, but they attempt it with a heavy hand at times.
A Necessary Film
We need this look at Black fathers and just in time for Father’s Day, which happens to be the day after Juneteenth this year. Stories like these will go a long way in normalizing Black men as regular dads taking care of their kids. It will also help rid society of this misnomer that Black men do not “do” parenting. Furthermore, it’s not a “Black movie” but a universal story in this country.
Fatherhood is a sometimes overly sentimental testimony that so many Black fathers can attest to, especially with the pregnancy mortality rate in this country. The film is not an award-winning masterpiece but it is a show of an often slept-on comedian’s potential. Stream it with the entire family this Father’s Day.
Fatherhood streams on Netflix now.
3.5 of 5
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