Producers: Marty Bowen, Kevin Hart, David Beaubaire and Peter Kiernan   Director: Paul Weitz   Screenplay: Dana Stevens, Paul Weitz and Matt Logelin   Cast: Kevin Hart, Alfre Woodard, Melody Hurd, Lil Rel Howery, DeWanda Wise, Frankie R. Faison, Anthony Carrigan, Paul Reiser, Thedra Porter and Debora Ayorinde   Distributor: Netflix

Grade: C+

It takes considerable courage to begin a movie with the words “This sucks,” but in the case of Paul Weitz’s adaptation of Matthew Logelin’s 2011 memoir “Two Kisses for Maddy: A Memoir of Loss and Love,” the words don’t turn out to be an accurate description of the picture.  Not that “Fatherhood” is anything but a blandly formulaic tale of a father who decides to bring up his newborn daughter by himself after his wife suddenly dies after her C-section; but while inoffensive, it’s also innocuous and instantly forgettable.

The basic plot trajectory offers no surprises.  Logelin (Kevin Hart), a successful engineer in a Boston tech company, and his wife Liz (Debora Ayorinde) are happily expecting their first child, but in the final stage of the pregnancy their doctor suggests inducing birth.  The delivery goes well, but while still in the hospital Liz suffers a pulmonary embolism and dies.  Logelin is inconsolable; those opening words of the film are how he begins Liz’s eulogy. 

His closest friends, rambunctious Jordan (Lil Rel Howery) and Oscar (Anthony Carrigan) are very supportive, as is his mother (Thedra Porter).  His mother-in-law Marian (Alfre Woodard), understandably distraught at her daughter’s death, is concerned about her granddaughter Mandy’s wellbeing; she suggests that Matthew should move back to Minnesota, where she and her laid-back husband Mike (Frankie R. Faison) could help raise the child—or that, failing that, she should stay with him in Boston for six months. 

Matthew declines, and the movie moves into the predictably comedic mode of his learning, slowly but surely, to raise the infant on his own.  His boss Howard (Paul Reiser) proves improbably supportive, allowing him to bring Maddy to work and even to bring the child with him to important project conferences.

The film doesn’t follow this thread for long, however, jumping forward five years.  Maddy, now played by Melody Hurd, is a precocious, vivacious kid, who resists the insistence of the nuns at her Catholic school that she wear the prescribed skirt rather than the slacks she prefers.  (She also opts for boys’ underwear, though this inclination is not followed up.) 

Thus far Matthew’s life has centered fully around his daughter, but after he begins a relationship with the beautiful Swan (DeWanda Wise), his time and attention are divided.  An incident forces him, or so he thinks, to choose between them, however.  He also has to face the issue of whether Maddy would actually be better off living in Minnesota with Marian and Mike.

But not to worry: everything works out for everybody.  This is a feel-good story, after all.  Weitz, who collaborated on the script with Logelin and Dana Stevens, has experience in preparing this sort of cinematic comfort food, and he handles the assignment ably, if unimaginatively.   

He also coaxes a performance from Hart that tones down his ranting comedic persona, giving him the opportunity to exhibit his dramatic chops while still leaving room for humorous explosions.  (Howery picks up much of the slack on the laughter side.)  It proves that he has some range, though it still seems limited.  Among the other cast members, Woodard is certainly the most notable, bringing some real dramatic bite to the mix.    

“Fatherhood” is one of the films that was made for theatres (by Sony/Columbia) and sold to Netflix after multiple postponements due to the COVID pandemic.  The technical quality is fine without being at all remarkable—the production design (Sarah Knowles), cinematography (Tobias Datum) and editing (Jonathan Corn) are all professional jobs, and Rupert Gregson-Williams’ score is happily low-key. 

One can hardly imagine that it would have been a major hit in regular release; it’s more plausible that had it been made in the fifties or sixties, as it might well have been without much change of plot, it could have spawned a pleasant but unremarkable sitcom.  But the lead doubtlessly would have been white (as Logelin is) rather than African-American, which points to the only real distinction this movie possesses.