Is this usually what happens when two very good-looking people marry each other?
Ted (Dustin Hoffman) is a career-driven yuppie until he finds out his dissatisfied wife (Meryl Streep) is leaving him and their 6-year-old son. But just as Ted begins to love being a full-time parent, his wife reappears to reclaim the boy.
Divorce is not something I have ever had to deal with in my life but from what I hear, it’s not a very nice thing to be put through. I know this through many people I know and hearing their experiences and thoughts on what happened, really makes me feel something towards them but feeling something towards a film that’s about divorce seems very, very hard. However, when you got something like this, it’s not hard at all.
Even though this is definitely not the first and definitely not the last film to use divorce as a plot, the one thing that separates this flick from all of the others is the fact that this feels real right from the get-go. All of these emotions that these people feel, all of the heart-breaking things that these people say, and just everything that everybody goes through in this film feels real and genuine except for being just another schmaltzy Lifetime made-for-TV movie. Much of this is testament to writer/director Robert Benton, who not only adapted this from the novel but directed this as well and supplies plenty of very dramatic moments but also a bunch of funny ones as well, which gives it this light side that does a really good job at keeping us happy even though it can get very sad at some points.
The whole time I was watching this film though, I couldn’t stop but try and reflect on a little bit of my own life and just realize how true this film felt. When I looked at Ted and how he cared for his son and would do anything just to tend to him, I saw my father and when I looked to the little bratty Billy, I saw myself and how that bond between us was strong no matter what because he loved me and I loved him. There are so many damn memorable scenes here that just stick in your mind but they felt like something that I would do as a kid with my dad, and the emotions that just ran out through every scene just hit me hard and strong.
What is also great about this script and its direction from Benton is that the film isn’t a very easy one for answers and barely chooses any sides. As soon as the mother leaves her son and husband, it’s pretty easy to paint her as “the bad guy”, but as the film goes on you see that some of the blame for her leaving could be also put on the father as well. The film doesn’t show us how their relationship was before this divorce, so we are able to draw up our own conclusions on to how they were before all of these problems started to actually occur. This may make it harder for some people to say who’s right and who’s wrong but when it comes down to the actual real-life feelings of losing a loved one and feeling how the other one feels, it feels like the only way to approach this sort of material considering how one-sided it all could have been.
The one problem I had with this film was the fact that the mother sort of seemed very one-dimensional the whole film. Even though I did hate her for the longest time until I saw her side of the story with everything, I still have to say that all she does throughout this film is complain about how she needed to find herself, realize who she was, and yadda yadda yadda bullshit. It would have been fine if she said it just once and left it at that, but it seemed like when anyone actually spoke to her that she just constantly kept whining and complaining that it was a real wonder to how was this chick even happy in the first couple years of marriage.
Regardless of that little problem though, the cast is just about perfect and what really serves as the icing on the cake for this flick. Dustin Hoffman is perfect as Ted. Hoffman is an actor I’m very so-so with not because I don’t like him, it’s just because I don’t think there is anything really special to him other than nailing down the whole ‘Rain Man’ thing perfectly, but here he totally makes me re-think that. Hoffman is just one of those incredibly likable dudes that seems like the perfect fit for this dad who wants to do everything to make his son happy but also be successful at what he does and how he can’t accomplish that is almost too hard to watch at times. His more dramatic scenes though are what really works and everything he says about he feels, what he’s going to do, or what he wishes he could do, feels realistic and he definitely deserved that Oscar without a doubt.
Meryl Streep is also great in a very young role as the mother, Joanna. Yeah, she’s kind of a weird itch for leaving the son and father in the first place but as time goes on we start to see her for more as a troubled human-being rather than just another nervous wreck who seems like she should be put into a clinic. I also have to give a lot of props to Justin Henry as the son because he actually holds his own between these two Oscar-winning stars and doesn’t seem like that overly annoying, too-smart-for-his-own-age kid act that we usually get with young actors.
Consensus: Kramer vs. Kramer is superbly acted by just about everybody involved and the direction feels right because we never take one persons side over the other, but where this film works is in the screenplay where it shows real people, with real problems, doing real things without ever seeming unbelievable just for the sake of dramatic sake.