Entries Comments

Movie Review: Kramer vs. Kramer

Kramer vs. Kramer
Written and directed by Robert Benton based on the book by Avery Corman
Columbia, 1979

Kramer vs. Kramer might very well be known now as the movie that beat Apocalypse Now, a movie so fascinating that it is clearly the best remembered of the nominees of 1979 and is even considered one of the best of the decade.  But by this time, directors like Francis Ford Coppola were getting some backlash.  The business side of movies was beginning to take over the carte blanche excesses of the go-to directors.  Also, the Academy had just given its top prize to The Deer Hunter a year before, and probably felt like rewarding another kind of movie.

Kramer vs. Kramer is a bit of a lost genre of film now.  Because cable came into play later, issue-driven dramas began to show up on Lifetime and networks like that.  You hardly ever see a movie about divorce anymore, not in the way Benton’s film portrays it: straight-on, without some sort of other plot point hanging in the balance.  Movies that portray divorce today include it as a minor detail (War of the Worlds and Liar, Liar come to mind as quick examples).

Ted Kramer (Best Actor Dustin Hoffman) has just been left by his wife of eight years, Joanna (Best Supporting Actress Meryl Streep, with her second straight nomination), leaving him with their son Billy (nominee Justin Henry).  Ted works in advertising and is in line for a big promotion after landing a huge deal, but now that he has to divide his attention, he may struggle to even keep the job.  Ted really has to learn how to be a dad on the fly.  Offering some help is friend Margaret (nominee Jane Alexander, who appeared with Hoffman in All the President’s Men).

The real conflict comes into play when Joanna, after “finding herself” decides she wants custody of Billy, and it sets the wheels in motion for an ugly custody battle, where the scales are tipped in favor of the mother.  After seeing Ted becoming a great father, this is where the emotional core of the film lies.  It’s no small feat that Streep, who has the stack decked against her in the context of the film, pulls out a sympathetic performance.  And yes, it was duly rewarded.

Movies like Kramer vs. Kramer aren’t going to be put on the same pedestal as Apocalypse Now, but it’s a fine film.  However, the Academy did go against their own grain on this choice.  Usually, a movie like Apocalypse Now easily wins, but considering all the turmoil reported on the set of that long-delayed and expensive film, plus the beat-a-dead-horse comments on Vietnam, probably ended up sinking its hopes.

Other nominees include the coming-of-age Breaking Away, the union drama Norma Rae, and Bob Fosse’s All That Jazz.

Write a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.