Saturday, January 8, 2011

Kramer vs. Kramer (1979): A Simple Movie Worth Watching

Kramer vs. Kramer
If you've just thought by only seeing the title of this film that it is a courtroom drama, you are not completely wrong. It is a drama and it is partially situated in court but the legal aspect of Kramer vs. Kramer is not the dominant theme in the movie. The film sports very good acting including the performance of the debutant Justin Henry, who has been just 7-8 years old at the time and there are a couple of fascinating moments, yet the movie lacks something in order to be a masterpiece.

Kramer vs. Kramer tells the story of Ted Kramer (Dustin Hoffman), a man devoted mainly to his career and not having enough time for his family. His wife Joanna Kramer (Meryl Streep) is not happy about her life with Ted and she decides to leave him. But Joanna does not take their young boy Billy (Justin Henry) with her, so Ted now has additional everyday tasks except for his job. He should take care of himself, look after Billy and keep the house. While Ted is learning how to deal with the new responsibilities he has, he jeopardizes his career. To make things worse, Joanna appears after more than a year and wants to take Billy with her. Of course, Ted has become very attached to the boy and he is not ready to give Billy up easily. A legal battle for the custody of their son begins and it is rougher than they expected.

The acting in Kramer vs. Kramer is really good. Dustin Hoffman portrays Billy's father with realism and his transformation from a workaholic to a loving dad is plausible. Throughout the movie his character is constantly straightforward and he does not fully understand the real-life complex games, being either legal or career related, and Hoffman successfully presents Ted's dislike of certain society features. Meryl Streep does not have so much time on the screen but when she's there, you completely believe that she is a confused at first but altogether loving mother. You are almost able to see the ending of the movie coming because of her portrayal of Joanna in the court. Justin Henry plays very spontaneously the role of Billy and it's hard to say he is acting due to his natural behavior. And last but not least, Jane Alexander gives a solid Oscar nominated performance as Kramers' friend Margaret Phelps. Both Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep has received Oscar statuettes for their parts in Kramer vs. Kramer while the film itself has won the Academy Award also in the categories of Best Picture, Best Director and Best Writing. The 8-year-old Justin Henry has been nominated for Oscar in the Best Supporting Actor category (he's still the youngest Academy Award nominee in a competitive category) and it's a pity that similarly to many other boys and girls giving great performances at a very early age, he does not shine so brightly in his subsequent roles.

There are 2 great episodes in Kramer vs. Kramer worth mentioning. The first one is the ending which you can foresee during the court scenes. It's a nice ending although not entirely life-like but let's not discuss it in order to avoid spoiling the movie's outcome. The other episode is when Ted is writing a list with pros and cons about having the custody of his son. There is a long list with cons ("no social life", "work affected", "no privacy", etc.) and not a single entry in the pros section. Nevertheless, in the very next moment we see him sure about wanting the custody of Billy.

One possible flaw of Kramer vs. Kramer but nothing really significant could be that the court scenes are not so many and one might expect more legal action because of the movie title. Additionally, the lawsuit is not very convincing and there are some nearly absurd arguments during the trial that in the author's humble opinion will hardly impress any competent judge.

But even if we consider the aforementioned (lack of) legal action an issue and although Kramer vs. Kramer is not a very distinguished movie (possibly due to its everyday narrative) it is still a very nice film to watch and there is plenty to enjoy during its time span.

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