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At-A-Glance Film Reviews

Kramer Vs. Kramer (1979)



Reviews and Comments

The virtues of Kramer Vs. Kramer are subtle. It opens with two cliches: a man neglects his family because he's working to land a "big account and later proves himself so incompetent in the kitchen that breakfast is headed more toward the floor than hungry mouths. These cliches are commonplace in comedic dramas about fracturing families, especially if there is at least one kid who knows more about Mom's daily routine than Dad does.

But we warm up to Kramer Vs. Kramer quickly when we realize the understanding it possesses of human relationships. Truth underlines the fiction. Even if one does not have the personal experience of the characters in this film, it's hard not to identify with their hearts. One thing I admired about the film is that it never gives in to the temptation to villainize or stupefy anyone. No one turns out to be secretly scheming or ruthless, and nor does anyone fail to see what is plainly obvious to the viewer far in advance. In reality, most of the villainizing we do of others is in our heads. There's always another side to the story. Actions can be good or evil, but people are not wholly either. Kramer Vs. Kramer understands all sides of its story.

The opening scene, in which Meryl Streep leaves her husband, played by Dustin Hoffman, hits exactly the right notes, and had they been missed, it might have been fatal to film. It is important because this is the last we see of her until the half way mark. As her abandoned husband and child learn to live with one another, her character remains in the back of our minds, and it's important that we think about her in a certain light. In a lesser film, she would be the badguy: irresponsible, manipulative, and selfish. In this one, there is more to her, and more to the film's perception of her, than a string of adjectives.

Touching and funny, Kramer Vs. Kramer proved to be a hit with a wide demographic cross section. Besides raking in cash at the box office, it won several Academy Awards, including Best Picture. It's not the one I would have picked, but I can sympathize with the choice. Fine acting, a genuine understanding of the human heart, and light humor make for a highly satisfying experience.