With Valentine's Day approaching, I realise that it's pretty pessimistic to be reviewing Kramer vs. Kramer – a milestone of a film that discussed the then-rare topic of divorce in frank, almost brutal honesty. Nevertheless, Kramer vs. Kramer was a hit at the Oscars in the late 70s and continues to be an enduring embodiment of modern families. Starring the ineffable duo of Meryl Streep and Dustin Hoffman as a couple parting ways, leaving their young son caught in between, Kramer vs. Kramer could be considered to be pioneering in the way it portrayed its characters.
Released in 1979, the film reflects feminist movements at the time by having the housewife, Joanna Kramer (Streep) as the one to cut and run. In her wake, father, Ted Kramer (Hoffman) and their six-year old son are shaken to the core, their comfortable, routine lives irreversibly altered. We watch Ted – previously the stereotypical workaholic father – and his son both struggle to understand what has happened, and try to form some kind of life without Joanna.
Streep, though not on screen nearly as much as Hoffman, is strongly felt in her absence and her appearances as the isolated wife in turmoil, fighting for custody of her abandoned son, are measured and impeccably delivered. Hoffman meanwhile carries the film well with young actor Justin Henry (who never beat this performance and instead faded into semi-obscurity), trying to gather their world together in a moving, daring and truly excellent film.
It is not as thoroughly miserable as this synopsis sounds, though there are funny moments, such as the classic father-son bonding-over-peeing scene that seems to have got rehashed somehow in Adam Sandler's Big Daddy. But for a film about divorce – a topic that so often gets chewed over in Hollywood films for easy dramatic effect – Kramer vs. Kramer is one of the most delicate and touching portrayals of this intimate family tragedy.