Matt isn’t ready to be a single father. He isn’t ready for midnight feedings, for a baby with colic, for piles of dirty diapers or for the feeling of bone deep exhaustion.
But he has no choice.
His wife, Liz, has just died—one day after giving birth to their baby girl, Maddy. And now, he’s left to figure it all out on his own. Yes, he has a wonderful mother who encourages him to press on. But her positive influence is often muffled by his mother-in-law, Marian.
See, Marian never really liked Matt very much. And now that he’s tasked with raising his daughter alone, her faith in him has dwindled to nonexistence. But Matt’s the determined type. So he reassures his mother and mother-in-law that he can in fact raise a child on his own.
He does. And he does it well. Still, life can be hard. And along the way, Matt’s forced to learn that doing things all on your own is less than optimal. In fact, he’s going to discover that selflessness, community, vulnerability and forgiveness are the crucial ingredients needed for a life well lived.
Throughout this movie, Matt works tirelessly to be the best father he can be. He often tells his daughter about her mother and why he loved her so much (and we see this love on display in the beginning, before her death). Matt’s forced to learn how to parent his daughter on his own, while working a job and keeping up with all her needs, and he does so very well.
But this complex set of responsibilities isn’t easy. Not with his mother-in-law, Marian, who constantly questions his judgements, belittles him and makes Matt feel as if he’s unable to properly parent his child. However, even this relationship gradually evolves into something beautiful, respectful and filled with understanding. Marian also cares for Maddy and takes her on walks, showing her all the places her mother enjoyed as a child. The two have other special moments together.
Matt learns lessons of selflessness, kindness, patience and resilience that any parent can watch and deeply appreciate. Some of these lessons come from his own wonderful and encouraging mom.
Matt tells a close friend that he does not want his version of a good time. Instead, he wants to go home and care for his child. This comment helps Matt, and his friends learn to have fun in more child-appropriate ways—in ways that include Maddy. In fact, Matt’s friends take on a very active role in Maddy’s life.
A doctor praises and encourages Matt regarding his parenting at a pediatric appointment. Marian apologizes to Matt for her rude comments and her lack of faith in him.
Matt recognizes that both his mother and father-in-law did an incredible job in raising Matt’s wife, Liz. Matt apologizes to a friend for irrational behavior.
Matt’s mother tells him that he will be OK because “the Lord has a plan for you.” Matt’s mother, and a few others, make similar comments. Matt tells his daughter that her mom is “inside of whoever she touched” while on earth.
Liz’s funeral is held at a church. Maddy attends a Catholic school, and Maddy’s grandmother wants her to be christened.
Matt goes on multiple dates with Lizzie, flirts with her and kisses her. Eventually they have sex; although nothing is shown on camera, we do see the two covered in bed, asleep, in one scene. Matt kisses and flirts with his wife.
A group of moms at a mother’s group joke about how their husbands want to have sex with them too quickly after giving birth. They also talk about their nipples and the pains of breastfeeding and delivery.
Matt’s mother-in-law, Marian, recalls a time when Matt and Liz were “messing around” as teens and Marian chased Matt out of the house. Matt tells his infant daughter that she will be celibate for life. And when he finds out his now elementary-aged daughter is unknowingly watching a cartoon show with sexual content, he immediately shuts off the television.
A few girls sport crop tops. Matt’s friend flirts with many women. Matt tells the nuns at Maddy’s school that if a little boy wanted to wear a skirt, it would be none of his business as it’s “the 21st century.” A group of boys make fun of Maddy for wearing “boy underwear.”
Matt talks with his mother about his father’s continued infidelity while growing up.
Matt’s wife dies from a pulmonary embolism shortly after getting a Caesarean section. We don’t see the procedure, but we do see Matt cutting Maddy’s umbilical cord.
Maddy falls from a tall play structure and receives a bloodied gash on her head. She is rushed to the hospital for stiches. Matt takes Maddy to a haunted house, gets scared and accidentally punches a clown in the face.
The s-word is heard about 10 times. Matt’s friend says the phrase “motherfudger.” “Oh my God” and “swear to God” are heard a few times. Other profanity includes words such as “a–,” “h—,” “d–n,” “d–mit,” “dumba–,” “a–hole” and “p-ssed.”
A few people drink wine, hard liquor and beer throughout the film. Matt’s friend recommends that he take a few shots of hard liquor, but Matt refuses.
Marian, Matt’s mother-in-law, is often rude to him as she vocally questions his competence, maturity and parental abilities. Matt wishes that he would have died instead of his wife, and he blames himself for her death. He also berates himself and questions his parental abilities.
Jordan, Matt’s friend, equates Matt losing his wife to the time Matt got poison ivy. A few of Matt’s friends say insensitive things as he grieves.
Baby Maddy vomits and defecates on Matt. A group of elementary aged boys make fun of Maddy and taunt her.
One of my favorite parts of this movie was a series of flashbacks toward the end. In them, you see Matt spending time with his daughter and enjoying the happy, special moments, the parenting victories: the first steps, the snuggles, the sweet times.
Sometimes it’s hard to remember the victories when it feels like there are so many failures in each day. But, man, is it necessary.
Failures, insecurities and difficult decisions are all part of parenting, but so are the moments you wish you could freeze and stay in forever. And as I was watching Fatherhood I fully felt the truth of both of those realities.
This film is a tear-jerker. I cried in a few scenes. It’s just so relatable. So real. Such a beautiful portrayal of how hard it is to parent, let alone parent on your own. And while this is a story of a dad raising his daughter, it’s also one of a husband losing his wife and the permanent pain that comes with tragedy.
Because of this context, there’s a decent amount of material here that isn’t kid friendly. Profanity seeps in throughout multiple scenes (but you already know to expect that with Kevin Hart) and sexual content is present. Those issues may give some parents pause before watching with kids present.
But those who see this film will find a positive, redemptive message about the beauty, joy and pain of parenthood, and some poignant reminders of why it’s all worth it.
Kristin Smith joined the Plugged In team in 2017. Formerly a Spanish and English teacher, Kristin loves reading literature and eating authentic Mexican tacos. She and her husband, Eddy, love raising their children Judah and Selah. Kristin also has a deep affection for coffee, music, her dog (Cali) and cat (Aslan).