Kramer vs. Kramer
Director: Robert Benton.
Screenplay: Robert Benton.
Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Meryl Streep, Justin Henry, Jane Alexander, George Coe, Howard Duff, JoBeth Williams, Bill Moor, Howland Chamberlain, Jack Ramage, Jess Osuna.
“Who’s gonna read me my bedtime stories?”
The 1970’s has always been a decade of film that I’ve never withheld my appreciation for. I’d go as far to say that’s it’s been the best in terms of America’s productivity. It was the decade where we were introduced to some of the finest screen actors in Robert DeNiro, Jack Nicholson & Al Pacino. We had films of such high calibre as The Godfather’s, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, Taxi Driver, Mean Streets, The Deer Hunter, Dog Day Afternoon. I could go on and on here but I mention this because Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep where another two of these marvellous performers and Kramer vs. Kramer one of the films that’s so often forgotten about.
Career man Ted Kramer (Dustin Hoffman) is so caught up with work that his wife Joanna (Meryl Streep) feels exhausted and unappreciated. She makes the decision to leave him but also decides to leave him with their six-year old son Billy (Justin Henry). Ted has to learn quickly how to be a hands-on father and by the time he gets the hang of it, Joanna reappears claiming custody of Billy.
As well as the 70’s being a strong decade, much admiration has also went to films in terms of Oscar sweeps. Only three films in the history of the Academy Awards have won all top five awards (Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress & Screenplay). If you consider Kramer vs. Kramer for a moment, most wouldn’t normally think that this film came close to that achievement. But it did. It won all of these awards with the exception of Best Actress. However, had Meryl Streep been considered in the leading actress category it might well have done. She won Best Supporting Actress instead, which makes this film very close to achieving the full house.
Resisting the temptation to be melodramatic, it’s a fairly straightforward family drama. Films of these types tend to fall into courtroom drama’s (of which this touches upon) but never falls prey to that sub-genre. The beauty in Kramer vs. Kramer is not to rely on high tension or confrontation but on the human aspect of relationships and family life. It emotionally resonates by showing us the everyday; heated discussions, playtimes, bedtime stories and frustrating meal times. It might not sound like much but there’s a real heartfelt authenticity in capturing these moments. Director Robert Benton, wisely, knows when to focus on his actors and has a marvellous ability to capture realism. As a result, he’s aided with some stunningly delivered performances; both Hoffman and Streep are at the very top of their game and young Justin Henry is no less their equal as their young afflicted son caught in the middle.
A beautifully realised dramatic piece that benefits from the whole cast and crew delivering honest work. It fully manages to capture and depict both the beauty and the difficulty of parenting and with a thoughtful intelligence, portrays the motivations and decisions from it’s characters without ever passing judgment. Another one of the decade’s true highlights.
Trivia: The strength of the performances of the two lead actors can be at least partly attributed to what was going on in their private lives at the time. Hoffman was going through a marital separation and divorced his first wife soon after filming ended, contributing many personal moments and dialogue. Director Robert Benton, offered shared screenplay credit, but Hoffman turned it down. Meanwhile Streep was still recovering from the death of her lover, John Cazale.