Kramer vs. Kramer

Kramer vs. Kramer ★★★★★

A couple of months ago I came to the realisation that I needed to address my understanding of the evolution of film through the ages. I had watched a fair amount of classics but of course there were what seemed like an infinite number still to see. Everyone has their list of shame. So I decided to begin working methodically through the decades, two at a time, one film from each a week, starting with the 1950s and 70s. Having now hit the end of my first lap, I could not have left on a more resonant note.

Being a single father Kramer vs. Kramer spoke volumes about the challenges and affection I have as a lone parent. I knew of the film and its success at the time and that Dustin Hoffman had collected an Academy Award for his performance. What I didn't expect was the profound experience I encountered that reflected so much from my personal life.

Going into a film knowing that the two leads are Hoffman and Meryl Streep gives you a guarantee that you will enjoy acting of the highest order. This is Hoffman in his absolute prime rolling on from All The Presidents Men and Marathon Man whilst Streep was quickly making a name for herself with a similar impact in her early roles.

It is a simple story of divorce and a battle for custody between Ted Kramer (Hoffman) and Joanna (Streep) over their child Billy. Their separation happens at the very start of the film as soon as Ted returns home, late as usual, from work. Joanna's bags are packed ready to go, crumbling under the stress of motherhood and marriage to a man more committed to his job than being a husband.

Ted is thrown head first into full time fatherhood as a single parent on a steep learning curve. The lifestyle change affects his high flying business role yet over time at home, the bond with his 5 year old son only strengthens. Things are working out just fine for them until Joanna reappears 18 months later having had no contact since she leaving. Her expectation is to take her son back as the main custodian which of course is met with hostile resistance from Hoffman. So a harsh custody case is the only outcome to resolve matters.

The relationship between Ted and his son is thoroughly convincing. Hoffman is of course immaculate but the real surprise comes from the young boy. He gives a performance of real merit never once overacting his part. Robert Benton, the director, could so easily have over-egged the pity angle. Instead he avoids lingering too long on the emotional parts of the story which serves to reinforce the powerful reality.

Streep was nominated for Best Supporting Actress as her role comes to fruition upon her return in the films last third. As with Ted and Billy, she delivers just the right subtle pitch during the court scenes. The reasons for her disappearance are given a convincing depth by Streep, helping to rebalance the argument for who should be the resident parent for their son.

As with so many films of the decade the drama isn't drowned out with a score made to open the tear ducts. It leaves the audience plenty of room to take in the scenes. There is nothing but the atmosphere created by three actors fully realising the people in the story. The emotion they create is genuine which makes the pain we feel completely real.

So as I leave the 70s and head back to the 1940s and 60s for my second lap, I leave on a high that was totally unexpected. Which is always the best kind. I will have many more highs, and probably lows, to experience on my back catalogue trip but Kramer vs. Kramer has given me even more than I ever expected, so soon.

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