It requires Herculean effort for a single father to graduate from college, let alone Harvard; as far as parental feats go, that’s definitely worth a “World’s greatest dad” coffee mug. Based on a true story, Hallmark Channel’s “Freshman Father” is a unique twist on typical heartwarming Father’s Day sentiment, but gets bogged down by a slow-moving plot full of mixed messages and one-dimensional characters.
Senior prom King and Queen/high school sweethearts John (Drew Seeley) and Kathy (Britt Irvin) revel in their popularity and good fortune in smalltown Boise, Idaho. John has a full academic ride to Harvard in the fall, and Kathy intends to pursue music school. Their love is true and forever, and John assures Kathy he won’t forget about her while he’s miles away. Before he’s even packed, though, they learn Kathy is pregnant.
John, not one to say no to a challenge, ambitiously plans for them to marry, move to Cambridge and raise the baby. No doubts or fears are entertained. Nobody gives the two lovebirds a reality check or freaks out even briefly.
For the first hour, viewers see Kathy and John struggle with being away from home but seemingly playing house and pretending to be grown up. They have a great apartment on campus, understanding friends and neighbors, invisible prenatal care and no pregnancy symptoms whatsoever. Calculus is a hurdle for John, along with the opinionated Dean Frost (“Guiding Light’s” Kim Zimmer), who appears to be waiting for John to mess up so she can give his scholarship to someone she deems more worthy.
When baby Adam joins the fray, the pressures of parenthood take their toll. Kathy misses home and doesn’t bond with the baby. John’s a natural and appears to have the magic touch. Kathy soon decides she’s not cut out for the whole parenting scene.
Writer Bill Wells, while trying to honor a worthy subject, tends to vilify or marginalize other characters in order to make John look like Superman. He’s a saint, Kathy’s a shrew. John’s sense of responsibility is extraordinary at his age, but at times, Disney Channel alum Drew Seeley, who coincidentally looks remarkably like Levi Johnston, makes John’s determination seem like some kind of machismo challenge rather than a loving commitment.
The dialogue doesn’t do much to dispel that notion, and can make things feel like the movie is touting an underlying message that pits “real American values” against the East Coast elite. “I may be a bumpkin from Boise,” John tells the unsympathetic dean, “but I earned Harvard as much as you did. And I won’t walk away from it to accommodate your narrow standards.”
When John loses his married student housing, he eventually finds Dorothy (Annie Potts), an eccentric local psychic who rents him a room at a discount. From then on, the movie takes a decidedly different and much more entertaining turn. Apparently, it takes a college campus to raise a baby, and with the help of Dorothy, understanding professors and tutors, too.