Wednesday, 3 October 2012
Kramer vs. Kramer
As classics go, 1979’s Kramer vs. Kramer is a film well worth revisiting if only for the superb acting on display. There is a lot more going for it, though, which I hope to cover here.
We follow a New York family of three. The father, Ted Kramer (Dustin Hoffman) is more engaged in his advertising career than he is with his family; the mother, Joanna Kramer (Meryl Streep), cannot take the frustration anymore. That same evening the film starts, she puts their seven year old boy Billy (Justin Henry) to bed, packs up and leaves home and a startled, just back from post work drinks Ted, behind.
The next morning Ted starts his new life. This life around he is a parent first and a career person second; obviously, it takes time for both him and his son to get used to that. When, eventually, Joanna comes back for her child our Ted knows where he wants to make his stand. Things deteriorate into the Kramer vs. Kramer trial the film has become famous for.
The thing that blew me out about Kramer vs. Kramer was its realism. With the exception of the obvious age gap between Hoffman and Streep, this is a no bullshit movie where things are portrayed as they truly are, most particularly the joys and tribulations of parenthood but also those of the working parent. Take parenthood as an example and check out all the little details: the way the child plays with his toys, eats his food, ignores his father’s pleas, falls at the playground… The relationship side of the equation is just as authentically managed, dealing with problems most couples would face through their relationships. When complimented by the acting skills of two of the world’s best actors, Kramer vs. Kramer is a film that goes out and reaches deep inside its viewer. It certainly did with this parent of a similarly aged boy whose main challenge in life is balancing life’s demands, career and other duties, against the demands of parenthood. Especially when the feeling of failure tends to dominate.
The realism of Kramer vs. Kramer also serves as an authentic historical document of the seventies. We can see the way people dressed and behaved at the time and we can also see the way New York City was like at the time: the same New York I visited as a boy. At the time I was mesmerised by the perceived relative affluence of Americans, as symbolized by comparing the toys Billy plays with and the toys I used to have as a child. Back to the here and now, it is clear globalization and the Internet have shrunk that gap and even made things worse for the average American. On the other hand, the rest of the world tends to have to pay more for things than Americans do. I’ll finish off with this: you know a film works when it makes you ponder indirect ponderings such as mine here.
There are three scenes where Ted and Billy have breakfast together that are meant to symbolize the status of their relationship at the time. The first takes place immediately after the breakup and, as expected, what starts as French toast ends up a disaster. The second has our heroes adjusting: father and son share donuts as each reads their respective morning paper, mimicking fairly well the meals I tend to have with my son. The third breakfast, towards the ends of the film, goes back to French toast. Now, however, everything runs smoothly. Just the way they ran when my wife prepared us all a French toast breakfast this past Sunday.
Overall: If you’ve watched it ages ago, go pay Kramer vs. Kramer a visit, especially if you’ve turned parents since. And if you never watched Kramer vs. Kramer, go do yourself a favour! 4.5 out of 5 stars from me.