Director: Paul Weitz
Cast: Kevin Hart, Melody Hurd, Alfre Woodard
When you think of a typical family unit, you think of a child with two parents. However, in reality, not everyone in this world has the chance to know and grow up with both of their parents. In Netflix’s latest film Fatherhood, Maddy Logelin loses her mother unexpectedly after the day she is born. Her father, a happy-go-lucky and often clumsy Matt Logelin, against everyone’s advice, decides to raise her on his own.
In the beginning, we get the impression that Matt was not entirely ready for fatherhood, as is the case with most new fathers. In the flashback scenes intercut with the present, we see that Matt still hasn’t set up the baby’s crib on the day his wife Liz is scheduled to have a C-section. Matt is a loving husband, who is eagerly waiting for his child, but it is clear that Liz is the voice of reason in the relationship.
The operation goes successfully, but the very next day Liz collapses due to an unexpected pulmonary embolism. This crushes Matt, who experiences the happiest and the saddest days of his life within a span of 24 hours. In the present, we see Matt trying to give a speech at Liz’s funeral, barely managing to speak a few words. He is distraught through the reception, snapping at his mother, relatives and friends. It is clear that he has a lot of anger in him.
Matt can grieve properly only when he is holding Maddie in his arms. At Liz’s funeral, Matt tells his baby, “If you could have one parent, I really wish it were your mommy." In a way this sets up Matt’s parenting style. Even though he is the one raising Maddie, he does it in the lines of what Liz would have wanted him to do. He becomes both the father and mother to his child.
Matt, who staunchly refuses to move back home to his mother and in-laws, soon gets bombed with the overwhelming responsibility of raising a newborn. He spends his day changing diapers, feeding her and trying to get her to sleep. He takes her to his office, he goes to a class for new moms when she doesn’t stop crying. He gives an important presentation with Maddie strapped on a slink.
However, even in the hardest of times, Matt doesn’t lose his child-like qualities. He treats Maddie like his friend, dances to Salt-N-Pepa with the baby and throws her dirty diapers through a basketball hoop. When Maddy starts school, he lets her wear pants instead of the usual uniform for girls. He teaches her how to play poker and raises her to be headstrong.
However, the conflict in the film begins when he reluctantly starts dating again. Even though Maddie feels a little neglected at first, she gets along with Swan, whose real name is Liz, his girlfriend. However, when Maddie meets with an accident at school, Matt blames his relationship and starts doubting his parenting for the first time.
What makes Parenting an endearing watch is its subtlety. Without saying anything, it says a lot. For example, in the scene where Matt goes to a meeting for new parents, one of the moms says, “This is not the AA." When he tells them he is actually there for the meeting, he is told, “This is a group for new mothers." Matt, unfazed, says the sign outside says ‘Parents,’ and goes on to talk about how much Maddie is pooping, thereby unconsciously winning over a hostile audience.
While it can be written off a funny scene, there are many layers to it. First, it tells us how mothers are expected to be care-takers and even women internalise it. Secondly, it makes a statement about African American men, as he is mistaken for an alcoholic. Thirdly, it makes a comment about Matt as a father, who despite being so stubborn, knows when to ask for help.
The heavy moments of the show are balanced out with the perfect amount of humour. There is no slapstick or jokes, just enough light moments for the film to have variety. Kevin Hart is essentially a comedian, so it’s commendable how the makers curbed the urge to run with it.
Coming to Hart’s performance, Fatherhood really explores his range. Hart has hitherto been seen in mostly comedy films, so in this film he gets room to shine. Little Melody Hurd has the potential to become one of the sought after child stars of this generation. Alfre Woodard, on the other hand, shines as Liz’s grieving mother, who can’t help but blame her son-in-law for her death.
In a nutshell, Fatherhood is a film worth two hours of your life. It is warm and fresh, but also eye-opening.