Kramer vs. Kramer is about marriage, divorce, child custody, the changing sex roles in a confused society, and the complexities of love.
It’s a fine film and won five Oscars to prove it, including Best Picture, Best Actor (Dustin Hoffman), Best Supporting Actress (Meryl Streep) and Best Director.
Hoffman plays Ted Kramer – an aggressive, ambitious, workaholic who is going places fast in advertising while his marriage has been quietly collapsing.
His wife Joanna (Streep) has been so busy supporting him in his meteoric career thrust, taking care of their seven-year-old son, and stifling her own needs as a person, that he’s been too preoccupied to notice the turbulence inside her.
One day after eight years of marriage, she turns over her credit cards, her apartment keys, and her child, and walks out to find her own identity.
Hoffman throws away her photos, destroys her sewing machine, and clears the apartment of her memories, but he can’t ignore his new responsibility toward the kid he hardly knows.
In a few heroic attempts to be a mother, father, and pal to the boy, he burns the French toast, arrives at a birthday party after all the other children have left, and generally makes a mess of things.
Only through patience and hard work does he learn there is more to being a parent than yelling “Sit up straight” and “Drink your milk”.
By the time father and son fall in love, the wife returns and demands her child back leading to guerrilla warfare in family court. In the process, the viewer gets to know the Kramer’s so well that it becomes impossible to take sides.
He proves there’s no law that says a woman is better qualified to be a parent because of gender.
On the other hand, she’s not a villain either – just a human being with needs, pride, and self-esteem, who made a mistake and doesn’t feel she should be punished for the rest of her life.
There are no easy solutions to their dilemma and the film doesn’t provide any.
Hoffman is marvellous – stumbling through the demands of child-rearing, he is funny and touching, frantic, irritating, and always immensely believable in his desperation to hold on to his child even if it costs him his career and the last cent in his savings account.
Meryl Streep is equally winning as Joanna Kramer – intelligent and convinced she’s right, trembling with nervous determination, and eventually heartrending in her humanity.
The kid, a saffron-haired dumpling named Justin Henry, is one of the few child actors who seems to have real intelligence and doesn’t just look like he’s doing a Raisin Bran commercial.