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Review: Kevin Hart shows range in tearjerker ‘Fatherhood’

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Kevin Hart can make us laugh and cry, it seems, even if the vehicle was practically engineered to bring on the waterworks. In “Fatherhood,” on Netflix on Friday, he plays a new dad whose wife dies shortly after childbirth and he’s left raising their daughter on his own.

To be fair, there’s been many built-in tearjerkers that have failed (remember “Life Itself”?). But something has to go very, very wrong for a film to mess up that kind of premise. “Fatherhood” doesn’t just succeed on that emotional level, though — it’s also a cut about the rest, thanks to a smart and funny and basically authentic script (director Paul Weitz and Dana Stevens) and Hart’s inspired casting.

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The story is based on Matthew Logelin’s memoir, “Two Kisses for Maddy: A Memoir of Loss and Love,” about losing his wife after she gave birth to their daughter. Since its publication 10 years ago, it’s had a few different lives, first as a Lifetime movie, then as a Channing Tatum vehicle, before finally landing Weitz (“About a Boy”) as a director and Hart as his star.

Hart plays Matt, a Boston professional with a beautiful wife. The film introduces him at her funeral, before cutting back to how it happened. The script does a good job at introducing you to Matt and Liz (Deborah Ayorinde) and making her more than just a bland stand-in for “wife” while you brace for what’s coming. And of course, it’s not about them but Matt and his baby daughter, Maddy. He doesn’t even have time to grieve. He’s got a little human to keep alive.

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