Kevin Hart, who stands at 5’2” in height, knows how to tell tall stories.
Such as the one in his 2010 standup comedy special, Seriously Funny: “My baby is weird, man. When he gets mad he gets in the oven. I swear to God. He gets in the oven. Then get an attitude with me when I get him out. Boy, get your ass out of the damn oven. Get your ass out of the oven before I turn it on.”
A short man telling tall stories has always been the long and short of Hart’s career, until he starred in “The Upside” alongside Bryan Cranston in 2017.
That movie showed off his dramatic chops.
Now, “Fatherhood” has taken those chops to Karate-level skills as he executes the role he plays handily.
Based on the book “Two Kisses for Maddy: A Memoir of Loss and Love” by Matthew Logelin”, Fatherhood follows the experiences of Matthew “Matt” Logelin (Hart) whose wife Liz (Deborah Ayorinde) dies shortly after the birth of their daughter Maddy (played brilliantly by Melody Hurd, Ya Hurd).
Matt has to raise Maddy as a single parent as he learns everything from doing her hair to making sure she doesn’t watch cartoons best suited to adult entertainment.
All the while, he has to contend with an empty nest syndrome (from losing his wife) and make sure that his mother-in-law Marian (Alfre Woodward) does not swoop too close to the nest and fly off with Maddy in her talons.
That’s because nobody, most of all Matt, thinks he can raise Maddy alone since he seems to need adult supervision himself.
So Marian is only making sure that Matt, um, doesn’t leave the kid in an oven or something.
At first, Matt is obviously in over his head. But then, we witness him change and grow.
What that means is that we see father and daughter evolve into a single loving unit.
They become so inseparable that Matt dumps his love interest, also called Liz (DeWanda Wise,) because he feels his daughter needs his undivided love and attention.
The fall-in-love/breakup and eventually makeup subplot between Matt and Liz is a recurring motif in all romantic movies. So it is predictable instead of poignant here.
With Hart being all serious, the comic relief is left to his boss Howard (Paul Reiser), his best friends Oscar (Anthony Carrigan) and Jordan (Lil Rey Howery).
Oscar and Jordan skillfully tap into the man-child shtick to underpin their humor with an everyman appeal.
Howery, in particular, all but reprises his role in the horror movie “Get Out”, where he was the hilarious Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Agent Rod Williams.
To subtly heighten this film’s comedic hijinks, Jordan is the tomayto to Matt’s tomahto as their antagonistic chemistry continually teeters on the brink of a bromance breakup.
In this, Hart is often upstaged by the likable stupidity that Howery brings to his character.
The film’s musical score comprises seven songs; most notably “Push It” by Salt-N-Pepa which infuses a get-up-and-go quality to the film’s tempo.
“Fatherhood” is inevitably about second chances; since Matt gets another chance to live the happiness he lost, through his wife’s passing, by bonding with his daughter.
Seeing the world through her eyes, he is reborn and remade. His mother-in-law Marion sees it, Matt feels it and the audience is sure to experience it.
This film is a second chance for an allegedly homophobic Hart too as his character Matt supports his daughter’s gender non-conforming behavior.
Interestingly, the real Matt Logelin is white and so Channing Tatum was originally cast as the lead. But he passed on the role.
Thereby leaving Hart to show us why he is finally ready to be a leading man, without a “Rock” to lean on.