← Back to Reviews

Kramer vs. Kramer

Kramer Vs Kramer won five Oscars, including Best Picture of 1979. This intense and deeply moving family drama follows an advertising executive whose life is turned upside down when his wife of eight years, walks out on him, leaving him to care for his son and build the relationship with him he never had.

Robert Benton's incisive screenplay presents us flawed, but real human beings with hearts, souls, and brains. For instance, in the scene where Joanna announces to Ted she's leaving him, she doesn't just storm out the door...she gives him the keys, her credit cards, the dry cleaning ticket, tells him which bills have been paid, and informs him she has withdrawn from their bank account the same amount of money she had when they were married, no more. This decision to leave was not a whim...it was thought about and Joanna felt, with no other option than to leave, if she was leaving she was going to do it properly...and with no specific plan in mind, she did not think it right to take Billy.

Dustin Hoffman won an Oscar for his Ted Kramer, a man so obsessed with bringing home the bacon, he had no clue that his life at home was crumbling into pieces. Meryl Streep also won an Oscar playing Joanna, the unhappy wife who we feel sympathy for in the beginning of the film but that all changes when she returns for her son. Hoffman is at the top of his form here. I always tear up during the scene where he tries to explain to Billy (Oscar nominee Justin Henry) why his mom left and he does it all in a stage whisper or when he meets Joanna upon her return and slams her drink into a wall (a Hoffman moment not in the script that Streep was not told about in order to get a natural reaction). Justin Henry hits all the right notes as Billy, the confused little boy who doesn't know why his mom is gone and doesn't know how to communicate with his father. Jane Alexander also got an Oscar nod as Ted and Joanna's neighbor, Margaret, who has switched allegiances by the film's conclusion.

This is an intense family drama but there are laughs to be had here too...Billy and the chocolate chip ice cream...Billy pouting because Ted is late picking him up from a party...Billy catching his dad's one night stand (JoBeth Williams) on her way to the bathroom stark naked, but it's the moments of human drama you remember...Ted running through Manhattan with Billy in his arms to get to the emergency room after BIlly falls off the jungle gym...Ted getting fired right before beginning his custody battle and instead of making a scene, he tells the guy in a whisper..."Shame on you."

And of course, the finale where Joanna tells Ted she's not taking Billy, which I found a little hard to swallow. Why would she go to all that trouble of suing for custody and then just change her mind? But this is a small quibble regarding a wonderful movie, masterfully directed by Robert Benton and flawlessly performed by a top-notch cast. A must-see.