A story about the burden of children.
I’m a huge Meryl Streep fan.
I mean, duh, I’m human.
I’m ashamed to admit that I haven’t seen much of her early work though. While I could certainly watch The Devil Wears Prada (2006) and Mamma Mia! (2008) on a loop until the end of time, I decided to use this week’s Wayback as an opportunity to branch out and explore Streep’s illustrious filmography. You guys, I thought Streep was the star of Kramer vs. Kramer (1979) but plot twist, she’s absent for a large portion of the movie! Still, in her limited screentime, Streep delivers a powerful performance that rivals the equally powerful performance of her co-star Dustin Hoffman. Really, this movie is just filled with fantastic acting. Also bratty kids. Believe me, we’ll get there.
Based on the novel of the same name by Avery Corman, Kramer vs. Kramer follows recently separated couple Ted and Joanna Kramer. When a desperate Joanna leaves her workaholic husband to find herself, Ted is left to raise their young son Billy on his own. Despite initially having no idea how to balance his work life with being a single parent, Ted eventually grows a loving bond with Billy, one that is complicated when Joanna returns seeking custody of her son.
Outside of the indie genre, it’s rare these days that a movie is made with minimal sets, fantastic dialogue, and intense emotion. Which is a bummer, because I tend to be really drawn to those types of movies. Sidenote, if you like a similar kind of movie, I recommend anything written by Neil Simon. Kramer vs. Kramer almost feels like the cousin to one of Simon’s works. Though it’s small in terms of cast and set pieces, the themes and emotions this movie manages to explore are limitless. This is a seriously well-written movie. Sure, there are some glaringly outdated 1970s ideals and references, but for the most part, the movie raises many thought-provoking ideas about issues regarding marriage, family, and relationships in general. Kramer vs. Kramer challenges societal norms of what is expected of men and women, husbands and wives, even mothers and fathers, creating a story that will leave you with a more well-rounded look at what it means to be part of a family. Naturally, there are a ton of heartwarming and emotional moments in this drama, but Ted’s initial lack of capability when it comes to caring for Billy is kind of hilarious. Not knowing his own son’s grade? Not comparing prices when grocery shopping? Doughnuts for breakfast? Classic.
As Ted, Dustin Hoffman delivers a sensational and grounded performance that rightfully won him the Oscar for Best Actor. This is a role that really shows his range. Able to switch from a broken man at the end of his rope to a father willing to do anything for his child at the drop of a hat, Hoffman takes you on a journey with this character. In fact, his scenes where he’s barely managing to keep it all together are by far the most enjoyable to watch. What’s great about Hoffman’s portrayal is that in the beginning of the movie, I was completely ready to write him off as an inattentive husband who didn’t deserve to be married to Meryl Streep. Over the movie’s run though, Hoffman is able to show more of Ted’s layers, creating an admirable and dedicated father figure that you can’t help but root for. If you can put up with Billy, you’re a hero in my book. Yeah, can we talk about that for a sec? I mean, maybe this is why I’m not a parent, but when Ted makes a significantly long and sound list of reasons why Joanna should get sole custody, I was like, “yeah, totally get rid of that kid.”
Admittedly, I don’t have very strong paternal instincts, but the movie does make a strong case for not having children and how they can put your life on hold. However, just when I thought the movie was citing children as the reason for all marital issues, aggression and divorces, the movie shows how rewarding and enriching family life can be. I admire that about Kramer vs. Kramer. Strongly making the case for two drastically different ideals is no easy act, and yet the movie pulls it off beautifully. Wisely neither for or against having kids, or marriage for that matter, Kramer vs. Kramer remains a wonderfully insightful story by being able to make its viewers ponder the road not taken.
So, let’s talk about Meryl Streep. After her short scene at the beginning, she just disappeared for like a half hour. I was worried that she wasn’t even in the rest of the movie! Sure, I still enjoyed the movie because of its great writing, pacing and Hoffman’s acting, but come on: It’s Meryl fucking Streep. I can never have too much of her on my screen. Thankfully Meryl returns around the 46 minute mark and holy Hell, just blows you away with her performance. I can now confirm, Meryl has always been flawless. Joanna is a complicated character to play and as expected, Streep pulls it off masterfully. Like most things in Kramer vs. Kramer, it’s easy to see both the positive and negative sides to Joanna. Morally grey, one minute you’ll be totally cheering her on going, “yaasss girl, live your life! Sow you oats and be happy! Break free from the life you’re trapped in and discover who you are!” The next moment you’ll be vilifying her going, “ummm, you left your child in the middle of the night to run away to California and not talk to your son for 15 months. I’m thinking you don’t deserve custody of that kid.” Sidenote, I would totally be down to see the movie where Joanna spends six months soul-searching in California.
Like Hoffman, Streep plays all sides of this complex character. In a particularly moving monologue that I’m sure clinched the Oscar deal for her, Streep manages to convince me of how deserving Joanna is to raise Billy. In fact, the entire titular courtroom scene is incredible to watch and will keep you on the edge of your seat as you can’t help but switch your allegiance from one Kramer to the other.
A movie that touches on every emotion impossible, Kramer vs. Kramer is a spectacular piece of film that I strongly recommend to anyone. Bonus points to the movie for weaving together a truly beautiful and moving cinematic ending. Finally, here’s a piece of advice from me to you if you decide to watch this movie: BRING. SOME. TISSUES. They may just come in handy.
Have you seen Kramer vs. Kramer? What did you think?
Let me know in the comments or on social media!