Kevin Hart remains king of the feel-good

The joys of parenting in his latest film ‘Fatherhood’

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When Gemini season ends in two days and I can finally start watching movies without spontaneously crying 10 minutes into their duration again, it is OVER for everyone else. Subscribe to get this newsletter in your inbox each week so you can be there when it happens:

This week, I bring to you: Fatherhood, a movie that is Kevin Hart in his ~ dramatic ~ era. It’s sweet, it’s tender, and it’s a much-needed depiction of a single father that’s sentimental without being over-laudatory. Also if you’ve ever wanted to know what Kevin Hart smells like, now is your chance.

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Recently I have been thinking about what certain celebrities smell like. Give me any name and I can make a prediction that I will deliver with the utmost certainty even though it is almost certainly wrong. Leo DiCaprio: pineapple vape. Fran Lebowitz: odorless. Margot Robbie: like a white dress billowing in the wind, if this Chanel ad is to be believed. Watching Fatherhood this week, I am overcome by a desperate need to know the scent of Kevin Hart, its star and co-producer. The answer, via a New York Times skincare profile: cult parfumerie Le Labo’s Lys 41, described by its creator as “an overwhelming white floral — a blend bewitching in its noble, warm, and sunny approach.”

“Bewitching” is a word that has only ever been used in marketing copy or in reference to an Irish girl group, but it feels … oddly accurate to describe Kevin Hart, someone whose career has maintained a rare and steady charisma from its beginnings in seedy comedy clubs to side-bit gags in The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Little Fockers to the spoils of fully-minted star power: a small army of comedy specials and a voice role as a sassy rabbit. His recent dramatic turn, too, feels bewitching in its own way: not new by any standard, but distinct from the comedy-to-drama transformations of his peers. Whereas Adam Sandler, say, turned to deteriorating families and nihilism, Hart’s work has continued to offer wedges of placid optimism amidst life’s grand tragedies. Some might call it noble, warm, and sunny.

Fatherhood, then, feels like the natural extension of a career spent in service of making people feel good. Based on a bestselling memoir by Matthew Logelin, the film tracks the true story of a father who suddenly becomes a single parent after the death of his wife in childbirth. This isn’t a sob story about hOw hArD iT iS tO bE a dAd, though, so much as it’s a pure comfort watch about the joys of parenting, even if that parenting looks a little unconventional.

Hart’s fans will know his character here well: the wise-cracking, hapless guy who’s a little stoic, a little vulnerable at the right times. Fatherhood is as much a whirlwind for us as it is for him: a crash course on folding nappies (hard), packing down prams (harder, apparently), and building IKEA furniture (hardest, obviously) as he learns to take care of his young daughter Maddie despite the doubts of his nearest and dearest. Slices of life abound — a couple of weird and wonderful friends by his side, a new flame on the horizon, a pair of in-laws who are loving and foreboding in equal measure. 

The going never gets too tough in Fatherhood, and maybe that’s the point. It’s a wishful, dreamy depiction of single parenting that Hart — himself a dad, and raised by a single mum — manages to keep grounded. Even as his character faces that most fatherly of dilemmas (will he choose his career or his child??????) Fatherhood avoids the trap of over-exceptionalising him for making the correct choice — the same one that mothers are expected to make without hesitation. A father isn’t just extraordinary for being a father, the film says. But Hart makes the ordinary joyous enough.

Fatherhood streams tonight on Netflix.

Watch these too:

  • Dead to Me, a show about many things starting with M including murder and mimosas, but also (single) motherhood. It’s a uniquely unsanitised version of being a single parent that’s messy, foul-mouthed, and loving all the same.

  • The absolute feel-good classic that is The Pursuit of Happyness. Will Smith is not a single dad in this movie (even though everyone I have talked to remembers him as one; call it a Mandela effect), but when he becomes estranged from his wife, he begins to share Kevin Hart’s scrappy parenting spirit in Fatherhood, trying anything and everything to provide as his child’s primary caretaker.

  • Gifted, starring Chris Evans as the sole guardian of his seven-year-old niece after the death of her mother. Like Fatherhood, Gifted doesn’t over-sentimentalise the challenges of single fatherhood, but it’s heart-rending all the same with an unexpected custody battle at its centre.

I can’t stop thinking about:

And apropos of nothing, a reminder that iconic 1999 murderous mean-girl film Jawbreaker is now streaming:

NO ONE is doing it like Mz Judy Greer and absolutely no one is transforming from pallid emo to beauty queen like Mz Judy Greer.

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Michael Sun is the Netflix Culture Editor at Junkee.
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