Mar 7, 2014

[Movies] Kramer vs Kramer (1979)

I'm pretty sure we're well past the point in our pop culture development when there's far too much content for us to enjoy in our lifetimes. Maybe I'd be able to watch a heck of a lot more movies if I didn't have to work for a living or something like that, but of course we all have bills that need to be paid.

So in one of my catch-up sessions, I decided to make some time to finally watch the critically-acclaimed Kramer vs. Kramer. And while I am totally in the camp of people who absolutely love and respect the amazing body of work of Meryl Streep. But I have to admit that I haven't been able to seen all of her movies from start to finish. Home movie channels like HBO have helped fill in the gaps somewhat, but of course those end up being movie snippets that you watch out of convenience and not necessarily by design.

By now I already knew what the movie was supposed to be about, but that still didn't quite prepare me for the full impact of things. The story may seem simple when compared to the big Oscar-contenders these days, but there's an elegance to it that's hard to replicate these days.

Synopsis: Kramer vs. Kramer is a 1979 drama film written and directed by Robert Benton, as based on the novel of the same name by Avery Corman. The movie won five Academy Awards - Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress.

The movie feels like it starts in the middle - with frustrated wife Joanna (Meryl Streep) already packing her things and trying to say goodbye to her son after deciding to leave her workaholic husband.  Ted (Dustin Hoffman) actually catches her upon arriving home after yet another busy work day. As he's trying to tell her about the major client that has been assigned to him, she's half-halfheartedly trying to tell him that she has decided to leave him. Eventually she pushed forward, leaving her bag still in Ted's hands. And just like that, she's gone.

So now Ted is left alone with their son, Billy (Justin Henry) and the two have to figure out how to get by without Joanna in their lives. That means Ted taking on the role of being both a father and a mother (from a stereotypical notion of household roles), needing to put in as much time as possible at work in order to win the business of the account that he has been working on since the break-up and of course figure out his relationship with his son.

The tile of the play is clever on a number of levels. At first it's clearly about the sort of silent domestic war between Ted and Billy as they come to terms with life being just the two of them. Later on it narrows to the legal battle between Ted and Joanna as they fight for custody of their son. And I suppose you could also look at the struggle outside the courtroom - as Ted and Joanna also vie for Billy's affections as single parents.

This is one of the movies that Meryl Streep is remembered for, but she's only a supporting actress in this production. This is not to say that she isn't brilliant in this movie - in fact her somewhat subdued, understated portrayal of Joanna was just amazing spot on.

And Dustin Hoffman made quite the interesting father figure with the rather precocious performance by Justin Henry. At first it was like a cold war between the two as they struggled to get even the most basic household routines back in order. But in time they two become quite the cohesive unit, especially since it's more than a year before Joanna fully comes back in the picture.

The genius of this movie is just how authentic the whole thing ends up feeling like to you as a viewer. There isn't much window dressing that attempts to spruce up the whole thing. Instead you get a direct and honest look at a man trying to get back without his wife and how a custody battle can take things in rather unpleasant directions.

I don't know what else I can add to the conversation about this movie - I'm sure that many far more eloquent critics have already put into words why this movie works on so many levels. It's a little painful to watch and there are moments that really have you feeling some major tugging at your heartstrings.

Kramer vs. Kramer is already a classic of the modern movie era and a timeless one at that. The movie is bit on the brutal side of honesty yet doesn't fall into the trap of exaggerating things for the sake of "drama". Not that it really matters at this point, but I have to agree that the movie more than deserves full 5 funny pieces of french toast out of a possible 5.

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