Kramer vs. Kramer


Movie: Kramer vs. Kramer

Release Date: December 19, 1979

Director: Robert Benton

Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Meryl Streep, Jane Alexander, Justin Henry

Personal History: Watched Before

Rating: 9.5 Oscars out of 10

‘Kramer vs. Kramer’ was a huge commercial and critical success in 1979. Not only was it the highest-grossing film of that year, it managed to get nine Academy Award nominations, winning five including Best Picture. One of its stars, Meryl Streep, not only got her second nomination in two years, winning for this role in the supporting category, she also had back-to-back films win Best Picture (see ‘The Deer Hunter‘). Not a bad career start at all for the woman respectfully named the G.O.A.T.

‘Kramer vs. Kramer’ is one of my favorite movies of all time. It was included in my 365 Movie Day Challenge. Since I really can’t do it any more justice than I did three years ago, here is an edited version of what I had to say about this movie back in 2020. (You can read the unedited version here.)

From A Movie a Day Keeps the Doctor Away May 16, 2020:

I watched ‘Kramer vs. Kramer’ with my family in the early 1980’s on HBO. I do not remember the exact year, but I am guessing I was either eleven or twelve years old when I saw it. I also do not remember much about the movie that first time except for one thing: female nudity.

The movie was rated PG so it was fair game for me to watch. I am not sure how much my mom and dad monitored what made a film PG in those days, but since PG stood for “parental guidance” and they watched it with me, they felt that they were doing their job. As I have said many times before, my parents were quite liberal with what we were allowed to watch, as long as things weren’t too gratuitous. So ‘Kramer vs Kramer,’ a movie my mom really wanted to see, was a go for our viewing pleasure.

Now a movie about marriage, divorce and custody battles wasn’t something I wanted to watch at eleven or twelve, but it was a popular Academy Award winning movie, so I endured. About half way through the movie, a female character gets out of bed (naked) and bumps into the young son of Dustin Hoffman’s character. The scene is played for laughs as the child seems unfazed by the naked lady trying to cover up her “private areas” and lasts at least over a minute. And just like that, ‘Kramer vs. Kramer’ became my favorite movie of all time.

Every time the movie was on HBO I made sure to watch it. And by “watch it” I mean watch that scene with the naked lady. Hey, don’t judge me. I was maybe twelve at the time. There was no internet porn in those days nor were there any Playboy magazines hanging around the house. A kid had to get what a kid could get. I will say though that trying to catch that scene every time it was on, I watched more and more of the movie and started to enjoy other aspects of it as well. After its run on HBO, ‘Kramer vs. Kramer’ became more than just the movie with a naked lady in it to me, it became a great movie for me.

Throughout the years I have watched this film numerous times. Being an Academy Award Best Picture winner, I have owned it on VHS, DVD and now Blu-Ray. In the late 1990’s when I was going through a divorce and custody battle, I re-watched it again. It was a great reminder to me at that vulnerable time that there are many sides to a story. Movies can do more than just entertain or show naked ladies, art can help, art can heal and art can help you move forward.

Watching ‘Kramer vs. Kramer’ was definitely a different experience for me today than it was in my preteen and pre-divorce years. First of all, I do not feel the need to see a naked lady anymore. Secondly, watching a film about divorce and custody battles long after that dust had settled in my personal life wasn’t filled with as much raw emotion, although it still packs a pretty powerful punch.

It is fascinating to me that in 1979, when ‘Kramer vs. Kramer’ was originally released, it was a breakthrough for discussions on gender roles, women’s rights, fathers’ rights, work-life balance, and single parenthood. Sadly we still suffer from issues regarding these topics and the movie is just as relevant today as it must have been back then. That credit has to go towards the screenplay. It is a smart script that does look at many different sides to the story. As the tag line for the movie says “There are three sides to this love story,” and all of them are explored tremendously.

It also helps that the actors portraying these characters are some of the best and brightest in their craft. Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep are superb to watch. I felt many emotions such as empathy, anger and blame toward both characters today at different times throughout the film. Their nuanced performances still make this old man cry. This is definitely a Kleenex movie.

Justin Henry as their child also aids in me grabbing for those tissues. He gives a remarkable performance and deserved his Academy Award nomination. At eight years old, he was the youngest actor to be nominated in any category and the only actor ever nominated in the same decade as their birth. At eight years old, I was watching Scooby-Doo. Over achiever.

The last take away from today’s viewing was JoBeth Williams. I totally forgot she was the “naked lady.” This was her feature film debut, and what a debut it was. Over the years she has remained one of my favorite actresses. One of her films is in my top ten favorite and influential films of all time (‘Poltergeist‘).

‘Kramer vs. Kramer’ is definitely a film that stands the test of time and remains as culturally relevant today as it did when it won Best Picture. It is a touching and honest look at the American family and how to survive or simply endure the heartache that is bound to hit most of us in life.


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