“I’m not taking him with me. I’m no good for him. I’m terrible with him. I have no patience. He’s better off without me.”
‘Kramer vs. Kramer’, directed by Robert Benton in 1979, is an American drama starring Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep as an estranged couple fighting over the custody of their seven year old son. Hoffman plays Ted, a man obsessed with work who doesn’t give his wife the attention she needs. Streep plays his wife Joanna who, at the beginning of the film, we see packing and planning to leave Ted. She walks out leaving Billy, played by Justin Henry, with his father. Gradually over the course of a year, Ted learns to be a father and Billy settles down. Then Joanna returns, determined to take her son back. It’s a touching movie that, at the time, was promoted as being a progressive depiction of marriage and divorce. It’s true that the focus on the man in the break-up is unusual, but the absence of Streep’s character and the promotion through screen-time of Hoffman’s, makes this feel more unbalanced – like a manifesto text for ‘Fathers for Justice’. Despite this, both actors are sensational, Streep perhaps more so as she doesn’t have the space to develop her character and has the harder job. The chemistry between Hoffman and Henry is also a key factor in the film, such is the feeling of reality in their on-screen relationship by the time the court-case begins (surprisingly late in the film) you feel completely engaged in the father’s struggle. It’s a humane, intelligent and amazingly acted film, slightly melodramatic and less balanced than it would want you to believe, but deserving of the Academy Awards it received.
Would I recommend it? Yes – it has real emotional weight and a surprisingly cathartic ending. Watch in a double bill with a film like ‘Murmur of the Heart’ for a similar balance of performances.