Oh God, don’t watch this movie unless you’re prepared to cry — especially if you’re a guy.
Ted Kramer is a career-minded businessman who’s obsessed with promotions and “bringing home the bacon”, while Joanne Kramer is an unsatisfied housewife who feels like her life is going nowhere. The film starts on “one of the five biggest days of [Ted’s] life”, where he is informed he’s landed a large account at his firm and comes home to find Joanne leaving.
Ted’s ill-equipped to take care of their son Billy and Joanne refuses to take him along with her, saying that Billy is “better off without [her]”. So with a heavy workload, no understanding of how to take care of a kid and little patience, Ted is left on his own to figure out how to raise a child and why, exactly, his marriage failed. Along the way, he discovers he enjoys being a father more than he ever realized, loses his job as a result and decides to be the best dad he can be. And then Joanne rolls back into town, determined to have primary of custody of Billy because she’s his mother.
Kramer vs. Kramer is an interesting film because at a time when American culture was shifting wildly, the film explores the traditional viewpoints of parenthood evolving. The beginning depicts the typical American family of the ’50’s and ’60’s and pretty much asks the question, “What do you do when everything changes and falls apart?” There’s no script and no Cliff’s Notes for parenting, certainly not when a situation like the one in the film arises, and a family has to adapt as best it can.
Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep turn in fantastic performances and the film gives equal weight to both Ted and Joanne’s point of view, but in the end it’s difficult to sympathize with the flighty, unstable Joanne.
Hoffman in particular is stunning, making you feel for Ted even when he’s at his most unlikeable, something that’s extremely difficult to do. Streep gives a lot of depth, character and soul to a character that’s easily written off by any other actress.
It’s emotionally trying but well worth the effort to sit down and view.