Kramer Vs Kramer

 

Released: 1979

Available On: Tyneside Cinema are currently screening Best Picture Oscar winners

Director: Robert Benton

Reviewer: Mhairi Ledgerwood

 

We received a free ticket to view this film from Tyneside Cinema, in exchange for an honest review.

 

Tyneside cinema are celebrating Oscar season by showing popular Best Picture winners. I was lucky enough to see Kramer vs Kramer, which won in 1980.

Ted Kramer (Dustin Hoffman) works in an advertising agency. On the night he lands his biggest account, he comes home to find that his wife Karen (Meryl Streep) is leaving him. She feels ignored due to his workaholic ways and walks out of their apartment, leaving Ted with their son Billy. (Justin Henry). The film explores the aftermath of Karen’s decision and the consequences for the whole family.

I was surprised by how my sympathies kept changing throughout the film. I automatically assumed I would side with Karen and that’s where my loyalties would remain. Karen is a college educated woman who gave up her job after she was married and has spent years feeling unfilled. It wasn’t hard for me to understand her character’s motivations in wanting to find herself at a time when women’s roles were changing.

But it’s to the film’s credit that the story is given a balanced point of view. The way Ted’s boss  treats his situation with any lack of understanding is appalling. A particularly memorable scene is where Ted has to turn down after work drinks to pick up Billy. He’s expected to operate in a 24/7 work culture and the look on his boss’s face shows he now believes that Ted isn’t as engaged as he should be. Ted undergoes a huge transformation from workaholic to devoted Dad and it’s hard not to feel heartbroken in the places where he has to comfort Billy when he is crying for his mother.

I also liked Ted’s relationship with neighbour Margaret (Jane Alexander). A male-female platonic friendship is something you don’t really see in film, and I was glad that my fears of it turning into a romance were proved unfounded. Margaret has her own conflict over whether to reconcile with her husband. We can see it’s not right for her and so can she. But humans are complex and I think what this film does so well is to show that some conflicts require a compromise.

Kramer vs Kramer stands the test of time with themes that we are still examine today. It does this without making either partner into a villain. At times harrowing to watch, it’s a great study of gender politics. Do seek this out if you can.

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