Kevin Hart waters down his ill-tempered, bug-eyed “little man with a foul mouth” shtick for “Fatherhood,” a perfectly-pleasant if predictable and right-on-the-cusp-of-maudlin single parent dramedy.
Hey, that’s what happens when you team any edgy (OK, “edge-adjacent”) leading man with Paul Weitz, Mr. “About a Boy” and “Grandma” and “Down to Earth.” You want to hit that “family” film sweet spot, you do what you must, right?
Hart plays Matt Longelin, a somewhat self-absorbed daddy-to-be who faux-gripes about his wife’s need for a Caesarian interfering with his “fantasy league draft night.”
The tone of “Fatherhood” is set in stone in the first scenes, Matt standing before a funeral, muttering “This sucks” to start his wife’s eulogy. The film will be sentimental, a near tear-jerker at times, especially when we see that wife (Deborah Ayorinde) go into cardiac arrest.
If you were wondering if Hart could play grief, wonder no more. It’s a wrenching scene, with Matt’s distraught mother-in-law (Earth Mother Alfre Woodard) wailing off camera.
But what they’re looking for here is lighter than that, and even though it’s a struggle getting there, Hart, with R-rated vocal support from Lil Rel Howery (as the best friend) and PG-13 fatherly quips from the boss (Paul Reiser doing Paul Reiser), pulls it off.
Everybody bucks Matt up after his loss, now with an infant to raise on his own. But when he’s out of earshot, it’s “He’s not ready for this.”
Woodard stands-out as a no-nonsense, almost-supportive mother-in-law who insists he move “back to Minnesota,” which Matt refuses to do. His boss (Reiser) sympathetically says “take as much time as you want” but drops little nuggets about “college tuition” costs and “there’s this thing called ‘a baby sitter,'” whenever the overwhelmed single father brings his problems to work.
Howery, a comic jolt of caffeine in any movie he’s cast in, scores by flirting with both grandmas at the same time.
“I can’t help it if your mamma’s a GILF!”
Throw-away zingers land just often enough to remind us Hart’s a comic, riffing with a nun at his kid’s school about how “nuns got to be so ‘street,'” a bit about “breaking up” with work friends because they tactlessly set him up with a gorgeous animator (DeWanda Wise) with the same name as his late wife.
“I’ve been looking for new white people…”
And the kid (Melody Hurd), once the story’s moved tiny Maddy into pre-school, is an adorable moppet with movie-kid sass.
“Fatherhood,” based on a memoir by a real Matt Longelin, isn’t a stand-out on Hart’s resume. But it’s a nice departure, and without the pressure of creating laughs, he comes off more relaxed and the lighter bits here land easily.
There is virtually nothing here we haven’t seen in a dozen similar movies, particularly that “Kramer vs. Kramer” parenting arc (one parental “indulgence” leads to disaster, etc.). But it’s perfectly watchable, maybe even for the entire family. Just keep a finger on the “mute” button whenever Lil Rel opens his mouth.
MPA Rating: PG-13, some strong language, and suggestive material (diaper jokes)
Cast: Kevin Hart, Melody Hurd, Lil Rel Howery, Paul Reiser, DeWanda Wise, Deborah Ayorinde, Anthony Carrigan and Alfre Woodard
Credits: Directed by Paul Weitz, script by Dana Stevens and Paul Weitz, based on the memoir by Matt Logelin. A Sony-Columbia/Netflix release.
Running time: 1:51