I’ll refrain from making any comparisons to Melvin van Peebles’ “Watermelon Man,” because the choice of Hart does very little to change the story. Colorblind casting is often done with no regard to how much, or how little, it affects the plot or one’s suspension of disbelief. Sometimes, it creates the potential for a more interesting take on the material, an avenue movies rarely go down because the script has been written for the casting default rule, not the exception. Since this is a true story, we can’t expect too many deviations from the events that occurred. But since there are so few films about Black fathers relating to their daughters, it’s a missed opportunity that this one is so generic, so flat and so derivative of far better movies. I can completely believe that Hart’s Matt would feel just as devastated by the situation fate thrust him in, but I also know that the real Logelin would not have faced many of the things his cinematic counterpart would have dealt with on his journey. Feelings are universal, but the details are not. If you think my bringing this up is disingenuous or unfair, might I point you toward the discourse that arises whenever someone says Idris Elba would make a great James Bond.
Despite all this, Hart is a very credible anchor here. Appearing in almost every frame, he makes “Fatherhood,” directed by Paul Weitz and co-written by Weitz and Dana Stevens, more watchable than it should be. Becoming a new parent has its frustrations and Hart is great at being aggravated. It’s kind of his trademark. He wields exasperation with the same mastery Jack Benny devoted to playing a cheapskate. He also shines in scenes with great actors like Alfre Woodard, who plays his mother-in-law, Marian, and has a lot of love interest chemistry with DeWanda Wise’s Swan. Most importantly, Hart effectively bonds with the talented Melody Hurd, who assumes the role of his daughter, Maddy, after the first act’s infant-based shenanigans.
Those shenanigans consist of the same jokes you’ve seen in countless movies, repeated ad nauseum here. There are the requisite moments of bodily fluids exploding out of both ends of an infant, followed by the familiar scenes where men can’t change diapers or quiet a baby. Regarding the latter, Matt is apparently so immature and incompetent that his wife’s body has barely been lain to rest before Marian practically demands he turn Maddy over to her to be raised. Matt’s own Mom thinks he should at least move back to Minnesota to be closer to both sets of parents. But Matt wants to keep his current job, the house that reminds him of Liz, and his home city. He also wants to continue hanging with his friends Jordan (Lil Rel Howery) and Oscar (Anthony Carrigan).
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