Classic Film Review: Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)

And the Oscar Goes to:

Kramer vs. Kramer, 1979

Directed by: Robert Benton

Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Meryl Streep, Justin Henry, Jane Alexander

 

Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep opposite each other in a film? Yes, please.

Kramer vs. Kramer is about the separation of Ted Kramer (Dustin Hoffman, Rain Man), a workaholic in advertising, and Joanna Kramer (Meryl Streep, Out of Africa), a reluctant stay-at-home mum. Meryl leaves Ted one evening, leaving their son, Billy (Justin Henry), with Ted. She disappears for fifteen months (she starts work in California, sees a shrink and realises she wants her son back) and returns to fight for custody against Ted for Billy.

As you would expect with its two leading stars (and Justin Henry’s performance which earned him a Best Supporting Actor nomination at just eight years of age) the film is brilliantly acted, with its two leads each taking home an Acting Oscar (Hoffman for Best Actor and Streep for Best Supporting Actress). And the writing is brilliantly done throughout, creating a character in Ted which evolves throughout the film, and a court scene which was praised at the time for how it held the custody battle (with views at the time slowly shifting with regards to bringing up a child). Ted’s character evolves throughout from the workaholic father who doesn’t really understand the needs to look after a child (shown comically by him trying, and failing, to make French toast) to the doting father who spends all his efforts raising the child and even takes a job which is a step down, and a lower salary, just to insure he has a job to raise Billy (and then caps this off beautifully by making French toast at the end perfectly, showing this complete change in his character).

It also made you question the outcome of the trial: I found myself hating Streep’s character for walking out on her son for well over a year, then simply demanding that she have full custody of her son upon her return, and disregarded the notion that she should be entitled to full custody because she’s a mother. But the film also does a good job explaining why Billy would be best going back with his mother. Each person will probably have a differing opinion on the matter, and seeing the judge preside over the case can be a manifestation of us, the viewer, as we’re watching and weighing up which side should win.

Kramer vs. Kramer doesn’t show us anything new or special or adventurous, but it shows us a moment of reality. Custody battles were taking place at the time, as they still are to this day, and this film perfectly catches both sides of the argument. I feel a few more comedic moments would have been beneficial, and perhaps an extra 10-20 minutes to further flesh out their characters, but still a thoroughly enjoyable film.

 

Plot: * * *

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Overall Rating: * * * *

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