Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Meryl Streep, Justin Henry
Director: Robert Benton
Running Time: 104 mins
Kramer vs. Kramer is an American film about a man who is thrust into the realities of parenthood after his wife leaves him and their 6 year-old son.
A complex divorce drama that burrows down deep into the real, difficult emotions of a marital breakup, Kramer vs. Kramer is an undeniably enthralling and above all emotionally tender watch.
The film isn’t always as affecting as it aims to be, and comes off as a little one-sided at times, but with a heart of gold and a beautiful lead performance from Dustin Hoffman, it’s an enormously captivating watch regardless.
First things first, the sheer honesty, simplicity and frankness of Kramer vs. Kramer in its story is what really makes it such a good film at its core. Steering well clear of melodrama or Hollywood-style emotion, the film is genuine through and through, and doesn’t hold back at the difficulties, complexities and injustices that people go through in the breakdown of a marriage.
That’s not to say the film is a depressing downer of a watch. Its frankness in tackling an emotionally sensitive issue is actually what gives it such a heart of gold, as despite the struggles and difficulties that the characters face, their purest intentions are entirely well-meaning, never turning into the genre caricatures that would be so easy to write.
From Meryl Streep’s emotionally exhausted character to Dustin Hoffman’s confused but determined persona, the Kramer couple are entirely down-to-earth and earnest in every regard, and a far cry from the aggressive, almost cartoonish squabbling couple that you may expect from the film.
With that, Kramer vs. Kramer has somewhat of a mellow atmosphere throughout, dealing with a highly emotional issue in an entirely level-headed manner. Couple that with its deeply heartfelt and earnest themes, and it turns what could be an entirely devastating film into a surprisingly warming watch.
The film still doesn’t shy away from the real difficulties of a divorce, from the personal rifts that grow to the wider-ranging consequences on the people around the couple. But, Kramer vs. Kramer portrays those difficulties from the beautifully optimistic perspective of getting through them and moving on upwards after a devastating blow.
The majority of the story focuses on Dustin Hoffman’s character, as he is forced to take care of his 6 year-old son and adapt his workaholic lifestyle to being a single parent. In that, Kramer vs. Kramer becomes more than just a divorce drama, and offers up one of the most insightful and fair perspectives on being a single parent you’ll see on the big screen.
The issue that I have with the film, however, is that it does come across as just a little too one-sided when it comes to assessing the fallout of the couple’s divorce. As you spend so much time with Dustin Hoffman’s character and witness the sacrifices he has to make and improvements he makes to himself, it becomes difficult to sympathise quite as much with Meryl Streep’s character.
Unlike the later Marriage Story, which effectively balances its portrayal of both sides of the relationship, the one-sided view of Kramer vs. Kramer means it lacks that heart-renching emotion that looks at having to choose between one side or the other, when all that you want to see is a mutual, civil separation.
Of course, the film’s major focus on Hoffman’s character means we get a more intimate and immersive perspective on the personal effects of divorce, as well as a more insightful view on single parenting.
However, I really wish there were just a little more focus on Meryl Streep’s character, getting you to understand her side of the story that bit better, something that would have certainly played into an even more emotionally arresting final act.
Overall, I was thoroughly impressed by Kramer vs. Kramer. A beautifully tender film that tackles a difficult and sensitive topic with a blend of impressive honesty and heartfelt optimism. Bolstered by a gorgeous central performance from Dustin Hoffman and a wide range of insightful themes, it’s a captivating watch throughout, even if it misses the mark on a slightly more heart-renching tale in its latter stages. So, that’s why I’m giving it a 7.9.