Movie Review – Fatherhood (2021)
Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed in this review are solely those of Marlon Wallace and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of WBOC.
This film was released the weekend of Father’s Day and it’s an appropriate film that recognizes and honors what male parents feel and can experience. It also emphasizes that a male parent can be just as loving and important as any kind of parent. It’s a feel-good story that is a perfect gift to the dads of the world, particularly the African-American dads who are a clear focus here. In fact, President Barack Obama’s production company is behind or involved with this film, reportedly because it portrays an African-American father in a positive light. It must be stated though that Obama’s company Higher Ground didn’t get involved with this film until after this film was already in production and perhaps not until it was already completed. I say this because it’s important to note Obama’s company didn’t make all the decisions here, and some of the decisions are arguably questionable, based on films that Obama’s company has produced thus far.
First off, this film is an adaptation of a 2011 book by Matthew Logelin, a man who lost his wife shortly after childbirth and who then had to raise his daughter as a single father. He’s since started a foundation in honor of his wife to help widows or widowers through the grieving process with financial aide. All of this is well and good, and his foundation sounds like a great charity. However, if Obama’s company wanted to produce a film about African-American fathers, I doubt Logelin’s book would have been the one Obama chose. Logelin himself isn’t an African-American father. In real-life, Logelin is a white man, a white man with a fairly well-off, if not wealthy and privileged background. If you consider the films that Obama’s company has backed thus far, American Factory (2019) and Crip Camp (2020), the focus hasn’t been on white, wealthy and privileged people. This film, though, was started in 2015. Obama’s company wasn’t formed until 2018.
Kevin Hart (Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle and Think Like a Man) stars as Matthew Logelin, a guy who works for some tech company in some unnamed city. He’s from Minneapolis, but he left to go either east or west to pursue a tech career. He met his wife who also is from the same area in Minnesota. When the film starts, she’s already pregnant. She gives birth and then immediately dies of a pulmonary embolism. Matthew is then left to raise his daughter alone. While his mother and mother-in-law want to help, he stubbornly refuses their help because he wants to do it by himself.
Hart infuses his usual brand of humor into this role, but a lot of humor also comes from him dealing with a baby who is constantly crying and producing a lot of poop. There’s probably more films about single mothers having to deal with a fussy or colic baby. It’s good to see the tables turned, but I feel like that’s been a joke in a lot of other films when all of a sudden a man has to take care of a baby. It’s always a joke and played for laughs usually. Here, it isn’t all that different, but the overall point of this film is to land on a place where we see fathers taking care of a child and not laugh.
Television has done a better job of providing positive depictions of Black fathers, from The Cosby Show (1984) to This Is Us (2016). There have been plenty of sitcoms with Black fathers and even some dramas as well. Yet, in cinema, Black fathers have been few and far between on the big screen. Some people of a certain age might name James Earl Jones in Coming to America (1988), Laurence Fishburne in Boyz n the Hood (1991), Will Smith in The Pursuit of Happyness (2006) or Idris Elba in Daddy’s Little Girls (2007). Hart is aiming to be another name to add to that very short list, which is fine. He gives a good performance here, but there was one thing that was nagging at the back of my mind throughout this piece.
Hart has four children in real life. Two of whom are sons. In December 2018, Hart was chosen to be the host of that following 91st Academy Awards. However, it was revealed that Hart had made anti-gay comments, including a so-called joke that he would commit violence against his son if he found out his son was gay. Hart was then removed as host and an online backlash against him formed. Yes, he apologized somewhat, and he seemed sincere, somewhat, but for a guy to say something so vile and homophobic as a father about his possible gay son, is disturbing and hangs like a dark cloud over a film that’s then about him being a father.
It’s something that could be overlooked, but it’s almost as if the film goes out of its way to address Hart’s homophobia and try to redeem him through the narrative. Now, I haven’t read Logelin’s book, so if what’s depicted is an actual incident from Logelin’s real-life, then that would lessen the impact of my criticism, but, in this film, there is a scene where Matthew takes his 5 or 6-year old daughter to school where there is a dress code. That dress code says that girls have to wear skirts. Matthew’s daughter, Maddy wears pants or slacks instead of a skirt. This gets her in trouble both with the school teachers but also with other kids who bully her. There’s no indication that Maddy is gay or a member of the LGBTQ community, but that kind of behavior, that of dressing in a gender nonconforming way, is a possible indication to being LGBTQ. Hart’s homophobia was about stopping his child from such gender nonconforming behavior. Yet, here his character is the opposite and instead encourages such gender nonconforming behavior.
On its face, this is a good thing. Allowing people, even children, to express themselves even if it’s in a gender nonconforming way is important and a good thing. However, this idea coming from Hart in this film feels contrived and forced, as if it’s meant to rehabilitate his image in the wake of his homophobic controversy. This would be fine, but this film also didn’t feel like it went far enough. Out of nowhere, Maddy is wearing pants instead of a skirt and there’s no explanation as to why. We don’t really get much exploration of Maddy’s preferences or expressions beyond that. There is one scene where she chooses to wear so-called boy’s underwear, but there’s no indication as to her being LGBTQ. It’s not like Moonlight (2016) or Pariah (2011) where the child does more obvious queer things. It’s like Hart wanting to acknowledge his controversy without really acknowledging it, and those scenes just ring hollow.
Rated PG-13 for some strong language and suggestive material
Running Time: 1 hr. and 50 mins.
Available on Netflix.