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Kevin Hart stars as Matt Logelin in Fatherhood.PHILIPPE BOSSE

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  • Fatherhood
  • Directed by Paul Weitz
  • Written by Dana Stevens and Paul Weitz, based on the book Two Kisses for Maddy: A Memoir of Loss & Love by Matthew Logelin
  • Starring Kevin Hart, Alfre Woodard and Lil Rel Howery
  • Classification PG; 110 min

Fatherhood is a strange film. Like me, you might have been intrigued by the trailer. It opens with Kevin Hart doing what he does best. He’s playing Matt Logelin, a widower father suddenly having to deal with a newborn baby alone, who approaches a group of new moms. He’s got questions, and starts rambling about baby poop with the sort of delirium that many new parents – but let’s face it, more often sleep-deprived mothers – deal with. Jaunty music plays in the background. When the mood switches to more serious matters of bringing up his girl Maddy (Melody Hurd), the score switches to a heartfelt tune.

You might go in thinking this will be an interesting dramedy. We get to see whether Hart can really act, rather than relying on his particular brand of comedy that plays up his insecurities. Well, you will definitely get to see Hart act, and he does a pretty good job of tapping into the frustrations of suddenly becoming a single parent. There’s no road map, and his family and close friends regularly doubt his ability to come through for his baby daughter.

It’s not that they doubt his love for his daughter. Nevertheless, his mother Anna (Thedra Porter) and mother-in-law Marion (Alfre Woodard) think he should move back to Minnesota, where he can rely on his family to help out. They mean well. But even at his wife’s funeral, snarky remarks are made about the yet unbuilt crib, all while Matt is trying to process his grief.

Fatherhood is a mostly sombre film that offers many slice-of-life moments.PHILIPPE BOSSE

Matt remains defiant, however – he wants to stay in Boston, where he has a career (something to do with making presentations about building designs). We’re never told exactly what Matt does, but he works in a nice office, under Howard (Paul Reiser), a boss who’s something of a jerk. He’s got two strange friends, Jordan (Lil Rel Howery) and Oscar (Anthony Carrigan), who pitch in with their occasionally bizarre but also often heartwarming advice and actions.

Then there’s Swan (DeWanda Wise), the animator who Matt is set up with, and who offers him – and a quickly growing-up Maddy – heartfelt companionship while being respectful of his promises to his dead wife Liz (Deborah Ayorinde).

There are some comic beats in Fatherhood as Matt struggles to be a good parent (unlike his own father), such as the aforementioned scene where Matt approaches a group of moms. But there’s no jaunty music to signal the laughs. In fact, Matt is at his wits’ end. While the situation is comical, it’s not particularly funny. It’s real – which is actually interesting. But there’s a cognitive dissonance to how the scene unfolds.

We can laugh about these things in hindsight. But when you’re in it, that feeling of being unable to soothe your baby can be quite despairing and desperate. Throughout Fatherhood, that sense of desperation hangs in the air, even as Matt and Maddy thrive.

The film was adapted from the book Two Kisses for Maddy: A Memoir of Loss & Love.PHILIPPE BOSSE

Even without facing a tragedy like losing your partner, parenting is a tough gig. Many parents make it up as they go along, as Matt learns from his father-in-law Mike (Frankie R. Faison), who mostly figures in the background other than to deliver that bit of wisdom.

The challenge of watching Fatherhood is that it’s tough to make out what sort of a narrative it’s trying to tell. It’s a mostly sombre film that offers many slice-of-life moments. Adapted from a memoir that started off as a blog, the film’s approach feels episodic while also trying to convey a grand narrative. In trying to find the universal values in Logelin’s story, it manages to lose some of the specificity.

There’s nothing wrong with the acting, either from Hart or the strong ensemble cast. There are even a few memorable moments – Matt and Jordan’s reaction to Maddy’s first steps, for example. But given that it’s being billed as a Father’s Day film and has a PG certification, it will be interesting to see who will decide to watch the film – and what they make of it.

Fatherhood is available to stream on Netflix starting June 18.

In the interest of consistency across all critics’ reviews, The Globe has eliminated its star-rating system in film and theatre to align with coverage of music, books, visual arts and dance. Instead, works of excellence will be noted with a Critic’s Pick designation across all coverage.

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