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Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Retro Review: Kramer Vs. Kramer (1979)

Kramer vs Kramer
Cast: Dustin Hoffman, Meryl Streep, Justin Henry, Jane Alexander, Jobeth Williams
Genre: Drama
Estimated Worldwide Gross: $106,260,000

Plot: On the same day Manhattan advertising executive Ted Kramer (Dustin Hoffman) lands the biggest account of his career, he learns that his wife, Joanna (Meryl Streep) is leaving him and his young son, Billy (Justin Henry). Forced to raise his son alone, Ted loses his job but gains a stronger relationship with the child with the help of another single parent, Margeret (Jane Alexander). When Joanna returns to claim custody of Billy, the ensuing court battle takes a toll on everyone concerned. 

'Dustin Hoffman Shows What A True Talent He Was, Is & Always Will Be'

A corporate bigwig and career-focused husband and father, Ted Kramer is saddled with parental responsibilities and taking care of his son, Billy after his wife - who looked distressed and feeling too overwhelmed in with what she considers to be dead-end relationship with Ted - decides to walk out on him and their child, in order to find herself. Throughout this film, we see Ted's attempts at being a good parent by playing both mother and father roles, and as this happens & as time goes by, his career takes a monumental toll and thus suffers, whilst his relationship and bond with Billy as father and son strengthens and blossoms as the film progresses. 

A year later, Joanna returns and wants full custody of Billy back, - which I have to say is a bit rich considering she was the one who abandoned her son in the first place. Although one good thing is that she managed to seek therapy and help for her problems. 

I enjoy most of Dustin's work and thus, I can't seem to recall him ever appearing in a truly bad film besides the Meet The Parents sequel, Meet The Fockers, or a film I thoroughly disliked but for Family Business, nor give one bad character performance in his illustrious career, and plus, he is a brilliant actor. With roles as diverse as Dorothy and Michael Dorsey in Tootsie, Captain Hook in Hook, Mr Magorium, Master Shifu in Kung Fu Panda and great dramas such as Rain Man, The Graduate, Marathon Man, Straw Dogs to name, he has that knack of stepping out of his comfort zone as a performer by playing characters with varying personalities, hailing from different circumstances and situations & coming across on-screen as a naturally gifted performer. I can't complain. Dustin can light up the screen with flashes of brilliance, as well as he is so versatile to boot too; he is that good. And here as Ted Kramer, he was beyond exceptional. He shows what a true talent he truly was in this film, a true talent that he is & always will be. 

Justin Henry as Billy was so endearing and tolerable as Ted's son, who at times was very naive, not well behaved but wasn't a terrible child. His performance is one of the best child performances I've seen in a film in a long time. Usually, most -if not all child characters are incredibly annoying and unlikable; particularly when they start to act like a know-it-all, but Billy made me feel sorry for him, but also his behaviour annoyed me at times, to an extent that I felt for Ted also. 

If there were a few talking points, then they would be that of Meryl Streep's character: as great a performance she put out there, her role as Joanna could've been fleshed out a little bit more. At times, it felt as though she was stuck on one-note and plus, I found it difficult to side with and sympathise with her. Meryl Streep is a brilliant actress, but because of her lack of screen-time compared to Dustin Hoffman, we didn't have many scenes of her as Joanna, resulting in Joanna being a one-sided character and her character's motivations and reasons for what she did coming across as a bit selfish. & to further add, seeking full custody of Billy when she wasn't there for him when he'd needed her as his mother, is a step too far. She should have pursued joint custody proceedings at least. You don't just abandon your child & make your husband or wife the main caregiver for 18 months or more - only to come back and demand permanent custody of the child, as and when you feel like it. It's just not right: it doesn't and shouldn't work that way. 

Recently, in an adaptation of her autobiography, author Michael Schulman revealed that Dustin snapped at Meryl, taunting her about her then deceased love and slapped her before a crucial scene. Thankfully, he did express regret for what he did on set to her at the time, citing drugs and his divorce as the reason for his behaviour. 

Back to the film itself, the general gist of the story is about how a father and husband deals with the sudden consequences of a situation that wasn't their own fault, to begin with. 

In addition, there was one nude scene in the film, which looked slightly awkward and rather out of place and though I understood the context that that was in, I thought that Ted would've known better than that as she knows he has a son. Or better still, she should've put some clothes on, instead of exiting Ted's bedroom fully naked - only to be confronted by Billy, who for a short while couldn't stop staring at her rear end and breasts. Another letdown was that some of the supporting roles were a little one dimension and too predictable and nothing much to write home about. But those tiny flaws don't detract from what is an impressive piece of dramatic cinema. 

And the last couple of scenes towards the end, were just, wonderful: wonderful acting, wonderful unravelling of events and I was more than satisfied with the film's resolution. 

Kramer vs Kramer was undeniably a movie that (rightly) sparked social conversations and debates about not just single parents, but over what people construe as traditional parenting and the concept of the mother staying at home looking after the kids, whilst the father acted as the sole breadwinner of the family, putting food on the table and help bring in money to put food on the table. & it's an equally bold attempt as well. This film appears to act as a reactionary statement towards traditional mother and father roles and a counter-argument that the mother, rather than the father was always the best choice in the best interests of the child involved when truthfully, that is and this is not always the case. 

Me personally, I feel a man is just as good as a woman when it comes to being a parent and vice-versa; I don't believe one is better than the other. Both are equally capable of doing a good job, providing they are there for their child/ren. Not just in person & financially, but emotionally as well. 

Usually, if there was a traditional standard divorce film involving children, probably 99% or be it 90% of the time we would have a plot where the father and husband would be the one person walking out on their marriage and family, and the mother and wife left fending for her kid/s. 

Final Verdict:

Great performances spearheaded by Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep with a film that is beautifully crafted, well made & intelligent that is intensely poignant, heartfelt and moving, Kramer vs. Kramer is the type of movie that is still relevant and important in the post -20th century. The subject matter of gender equality is well orchestrated and dealt with, in a mature & also enlightening manner.

Kramer vs. Kramer is yet another in the long line of excellent movies starring Dustin Hoffman, yet as Ted Kramer arguably he hasn't given such an emotionally charged and honest on-screen performance as this one. 

This is a story about single parent-child relationships of the highest order.  


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