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'Fatherhood' review: Kevin Hart shows off his dramatic acting chops

Kevin Hart, Alfre Woodard and Philippe Bosse in

Kevin Hart, Alfre Woodard and Philippe Bosse in "Fatherhood."   Credit: NETFLIX/Philippe Bosse

MOVIE "Fatherood"

WHERE Streaming on Netflix

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Kevin Hart stars as new father Matthew Logelin, who must raise his daughter Maddy (Melody Hurd as an adolescent) after his wife dies from a pulmonary embolism just after childbirth.

"Fatherhood," streaming on Netflix just in time for Father's Day, follows Matthew as he adjusts to the realities of single parenthood and finds himself faced with important decision points in considering what's best for Maddy.

The drama, directed by the veteran Paul Weitz and based on the real Matthew Logelin's "Two Kisses for Maddy: A Memoir of Loss and Love," co-stars Alfre Woodard, Lil Rel Howery, DeWanda Wise and Paul Reiser, among other noteworthies.

MY SAY There are lots of ways "Fatherhood" might have gone wrong: the premise could have spurred something like a modern-day "Mr. Mom" or "Three Men and a Baby," in which the concept of, say, a dad changing a diaper is fodder for misbegotten laughs.

Fortunately, the filmmakers treat the subject with seriousness and sincerity. Even if the screenplay, which Weitz co-wrote with Dana Stevens, hits a series of predictable marks, the actors invest a great deal of feeling and a strong sense of purpose in bringing these characters to life.

Hart plays Matthew less as a man overwhelmed by being a single parent and suffering a series of foibles as a result, than as someone trying his best to be everything possible to everyone.

Maddy is his top priority and primary focus. But his boss, played by Reiser, has high hopes and expectations for him at work. The promise of a new romance emerges in the form of Swan (DeWanda Wise), but there's a lot of trust required to let someone new into his life with Maddy. His mother-in-law Marian (Alfre Woodard) pressures him to move back home from Boston to Minnesota, so his daughter has more family around him.

It's a rare chance for the star to show off his dramatic acting chops and he hits notes of vulnerability and confidence in equal measure. Hart affectingly carries the sadness of the unexpected tragedy mixed with the joys of being a dad.

The star and the wonderful Melody Hurd develop a father-daughter bond that's defined by this duality, but the actors keep it grounded in the highs and lows of day-to-day life rather than the cliches of a typical movie relationship.

With pictures under his belt ranging from "About a Boy" to the Lily Tomlin vehicle "Grandma," the filmmaker Weitz knows his way around this sort of material. There's comic relief provided by the likes of Lil Rel Howery and "Barry" character actor Anthony Carrigan as Hart's best friends, but it's restrained. The picture is rife with emotion but never overwrought.

It's a story of fatherhood that treats its characters with kindness and compassion, rather than as a spectacle.

BOTTOM LINE This is an affecting, well-acted drama with many honest moments and an excellent Kevin Hart performance.

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