After a bumpy road to get out, Netflix Paternity will arrive on the streaming giant’s platform just in time for Father’s Day weekend. Based on the 2011 bestseller by Matthew Logelin Two kisses for Maddy: a memory of loss and love, this real-life pain wellness gloss tells the story of a widowed father struggling to raise his daughter on his own. With Kevin Hart playing skillfully against the type and typically polite direction of Paul Weitz (Grandma, about a boy), it is both an efficient star vehicle and a tender tearful.
Paternity opens with a funeral. Matt (Hart) stands in front of a church podium, his head bowed, looking defeated. “It sucks,” he admits before the film goes on to a memorial service at his home. His wife, Liz (Deborah Ayorinde), has just died and Matt, staring at his bedroom ceiling, tries to face the reality of his new life as a widower and single father. Interspersed in the memorial scenes are flashbacks to Matt and his wife at Boston Memorial Hospital, listening to an obstetrician explain why she will have to deliver their baby a week earlier. Liz’s amniotic fluids are low and their daughter is in breech, which means Liz needs a Caesarean section immediately.
The bottom line
A conventional but effective Father’s Day movie to feel good.
Although the couple feel unprepared, they are confident because they are together. The film warmly traverses Liz’s work and the simultaneous mix of excitement and anxiety that new parents feel. But the threat of bad news haunts that happy moment, and a few scenes later, Liz collapses with a pulmonary embolism. Doctors rush to his room to try and get him an oxygen mask as a nurse forces Hart out. “She’s my wife, what’s wrong with my wife?” Matt yells, his screams changing from anger and pain to despair. Hart, generally known for his comedy – and which I still cannot separate from his homophobic tweets and rants against culture cancellation – embraces a more dramatic side here and is surprisingly compelling in these moments.
Paternity looks like an artfully bred Lifetime movie – and that’s the point. The film knows itself, works within the confines of its genre, and hits all the notes needed to make a satisfying weeper. Always warm lighting coupled with a liberal use of close-ups and deeply touching musical cues (from Hozier to PJ Morton) heighten emotional tension and add to the honeyed vibe.
Everyone in Matt’s life seems to be expressing their lack of confidence in his ability to handle things after his wife’s death. His friends Jordan (Lil Rel Howery) and Oscar (Anthony Carrigan) ask him if he thinks he can raise a child on his own and his mother-in-law (the always gracious Alfre Woodard) even offers to take baby Maddy back home at the Minnesota. To say their timing is terrible would be an understatement, and a heartbreak, but determined Matt ignores them. The first half of the movie follows Matt’s early days of parenting, from diaper changing to sleep training.
Running for an hour and 50 minutes well paced, the film differs in a substantial way from the memories, the most obvious change being the race of the protagonist. While the real Matthew Logelin is white, this Matthew and all of his family and community of friends are black. The casting choices seem a deliberate way of reaffirming the universality of the film’s themes – the pain of heartbreak and the power of love to transcend race and ethnicity.
What is more difficult to judge is whether or not Paternity succeeds in reflecting the specific challenges that black single parents face in the United States. The entire movie takes place in a pseudo-fantasy world, in which Matt’s boss Howard (Paul Reiser) casually gives him six weeks off and allows him to bring Maddy to work, where Matt cradles her to his chest. as he shows up at a very important meeting.
Matt takes on a whole new set of obstacles when Maddy, now played by talented Melody Hurd (Them), grows. Precocious and daring, Maddy struggles to fit into school, where nuns require girls to wear skirts (a rule she and her father fiercely oppose). Now that his daughter is no longer a child, Matt has to navigate trying to see her as a person and find his way back into the world, which essentially means dating a new woman whose name also happens to be Liz (DeWanda Wise).
Hart and Hurd make a heartwarming father-daughter duo, with Weitz’s assured leadership giving the two characters enough room to breathe, grow, and experience new versions of each other. The rest of the cast are strong as well, especially Howery and Carrigan, who help the film retain its lightness. (The other female characters, unsurprisingly, are written more finely.)
Paternity boasts impressive talent and craftsmanship, as well as an abundance of poignant and nostalgic moments. Although predictable, he still manages to perform some breathtaking magic. For that kind of movie, I think that’s all you can really ask for.
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