Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)

On the heels of last night’s ceremony comes this review about the 1979 Academy Award® winner for Best Picture which I watched the night before this year’s awards were handed out. Based on a novel by Avery Corman, and adapted for the screen and directed by Robert Benton (who also received Oscars® for his direction and screenplay), this film follows a family of three: Ted Kramer (Dustin Hoffman), his wife Joanna (Meryl Streep), and their son Billy (Justin Henry). When Joanna divorces Ted, he is left with Billy and must raise him as a single parent while simultaneously dealing with an increased workload at his advertising job. Although Ted and Billy rekindle their relationship, Joanna soon steps back into the picture and a heated custody battle begins.

KRAMER VS. KRAMER takes a compassionate look at the realities and consequences of divorce and the changing views of culture and family roles in the 1970s without taking sides. In fact, the equal portrayal of both Ted and Joanna’s points of view is one of this film’s strongest draws, as divorce obviously impacts both of the people involved, even if that impact goes in very much different ways for either of them as we see here. Additionally, the idea of single fatherhood is alone particularly notable, especially as it is something which is rarely shown in modern-day media.

Hoffman and Streep portray characters who are extremely relatable, even to those in the audience who may not be divorcees. In fact, the relationship between the two on-set was reportedly like a couple who might have been on the verge of divorce, as Streep has claimed several incidents of harassment by Hoffman in the forty years since the film’s release. However much these purported events affected their acting, we may never know; but both received Academy Awards® for their roles (Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress, respectively) that were very much deserved. Also giving a very brilliant and realistic performance is Justin Henry as Billy Kramer, who at eight years old was nominated for Best Supporting Actor (he lost to Melvyn Douglas for BEING THERE) and to this day remains the youngest person ever to receive an Oscar® nomination.

KRAMER VS. KRAMER is not just a family drama, but a quintessential human drama. It is also a definite recommendation from me.