Kramer Vs. Kramer (1979) Directed by Robert Benton. With Dustin Hoffman, Justin Henry and Meryl Streep.
The term ‘man up‘ didn’t exist in 1979, but Robert Benton’s Kramer Vs. Kramer is, in part, saying exactly that. Adapted by Benton from a novel by Avery Corman, the film is initially about Ted Kramer’s (Hoffman) struggle to cope with looking after his young son, after his wife (Streep) unexpectedly leaves him.
With a collection of Oscars to its name, including two acting awards and a best director gong, you might be forgiven for expecting something a bit special. The truth is, ‘The Academy’ often fails to predict what will resonate through the decades. Better films were released in 1979; films like Alien and Apocalypse Now, which reminds us that a line of Oscars means very little, in the overall scheme of things.
What Kramer Vs. Kramer is, is a good film, more significantly, maybe an important one. It’s an intimate view into the life of a man who has never bothered to build a meaningful relationship with his only son. In the wake of his wife dumping him, he is forced to do just that. This is what makes the film important. Building a healthy relationship with your child is the most significant thing you’ll ever do as a parent. Buying them stuff or loving them in ‘my own way‘, simply isn’t good enough. Neglect is a form of abuse, and the film makes a concerted effort to highlight it.
Dustin Hoffman is excellent in the lead role, working beautifully with his screen son (Justin Henry) as we witness an evolution in their relationship. But while things flourish, there’s an inherent sadness built into the piece, as the emotional tug of war between Streep and Hoffman ramps up. During a divorce, especially one with a child in the middle, parents must be especially mindful to protect their kids. I know because I’ve been there, and it’s tough. When the smoke clears, the child shouldn’t have a clear favourite parent. Alas, not everyone gets it right. 3.5/5