Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)

Continuing the DailyView binge this Sunday morning, I pulled up HBO Max and picked out the film Kramer vs. Kramer starring Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep.

Kramer vs. Kramer is a tough watch at times as the emotions are a major component of the story.

Joanna (Meryl Streep) has been unhappy in her marriage to Ted (Dustin Hoffman) for years and she has finally gotten to the point that she was ready to leave him and find out who she was. Unfortunately, her situation did not allow her to take her son, Billy (Justin Henry), with her. So she leaves Billy with Ted and walks out.

Ted had never been the most present parent. Working at the ad agency, Ted spent more time at work than being a father. With Joanna gone, Ted was forced to change his life to accommodate his son. At the beginning, the times were rocky, with Ted struggle with his newly defined roles. However, over the months, he slowly began to improve. Above all, he loved his son and he made the adjustments he needed to make.

With things going well, Joanna returned to the picture, having found the personal self-worth she was in search of, and she wanted custody of Billy. The Kramers went to court to fight, often times dirty, to get custody of their son.

Meryl Streep’s character in Kramer vs. Kramer is not as developed as Hoffman’s, mainly because of a lack of screen time in the normal moments. We only seen Joanna in highly emotional states and that colors our perceptions of her. We see the negative side of Ted, but we also get the chance to see him change and to improve his fathering. This is something we do not see with Joanna. We are told that she is a great mother, but we never get a chance to see it. Even when she gets her time with Billy after being gone for months, we do not get to see them interact.

Because of this, Kramer vs. Kramer feels unbalanced. We find ourselves rooting for Ted because we have seen his transformation and we have seen how the relationship between him and Billy has grown. Joanna is not given that same development and one wonders how emotional the movie could have been had it been set up with more of a balance between the mother and father.

The ending also feels as if it comes out of nowhere. We do not see Joanna make any of the revelations that she does in order to come to the decision that she makes. It makes her look even more flighty than she had during the film. It feels as if the character of Joanna is really underserved with the story.

However, the acting in the film is top notch. Both Meryl Streep and Dustin Hoffman are at the top of their game and the only reason you have connection with Joanna at all is because of the skill of Meryl Streep. Strep and Hoffman both won Academy Awards for their work in Kramer vs. Kramer. An unsung performance is that of Justin Henry as Billy. Every scene that required emotional depth, he knocked out of the park. He fit right in with Hoffman and Streep, which is impressive for an eight year old. Though he did not win, Justin Henry was nominated for Best Supporting Actor too.

Though it did feel too one sides, Kramer vs. Kramer is an emotional roller coaster and shows how a father-son relationship can be a successful one. It showed how much the character of Ted loved his son and it explored the pain that can come from custody hearing. I wish they had made Joanna more of a complete character, or at least let us see her develop as well.

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