Kramer vs. Kramer
|Kramer vs. Kramer|
Original film poster
|Directed by||Robert Benton|
|Produced by||Richard Fischoff|
Stanley R. Jaffe
|Screenplay by||Robert Benton|
|Based on||Kramer vs. Kramer|
by Avery Corman
|Music by||Paul Gemignani|
Erma E. Levin
Roy B. Yokelson
|Edited by||Gerald B. Greenberg|
|Distributed by||Columbia Pictures|
|Box office||$106.3 million|
Kramer vs. Kramer is a 1979 American family legal drama film written and directed by Robert Benton, based on Avery Corman's novel. The film stars Dustin Hoffman, Meryl Streep, Jane Alexander and Justin Henry. It tells the story of a couple's divorce, its impact on their young son, and the subsequent evolution of their relationship and views on parenting.
The film explores themes of major social issues such as the psychology and fallout of divorce, gender roles, women's rights, fathers' rights, work versus home, and the single parent experience.
Kramer vs. Kramer was theatrically released on December 19, 1979 by Columbia Pictures. It was a major critical and commercial success, grossing $106.3 million on a $8 million budget, becoming the highest-grossing film of 1979 and received a leading nine nominations at the 52nd Academy Awards, winning five: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (for Hoffman), Best Supporting Actress (for Streep), and Best Adapted Screenplay.
Ted Kramer (Dustin Hoffman) is a workaholic advertising executive who has just been assigned a new and very important account. Ted arrives home and shares the good news with his wife Joanna (Meryl Streep) only to find that she is leaving him. Saying that she needs to find herself, she leaves Ted to raise their son Billy (Justin Henry) by himself. Ted and Billy initially resent one another as Ted no longer has time to carry his increased workload, and Billy misses his mother's love and attention. After months of unrest, Ted and Billy learn to cope and gradually bond as father and son.
Ted befriends his neighbor Margaret (Jane Alexander), who had initially counseled Joanna to leave Ted if she was that unhappy. Margaret is a fellow single parent, and she and Ted become kindred spirits. One day, as the two sit in the park watching their children play, Billy falls off the jungle gym, severely cutting his face. Ted sprints several blocks through oncoming traffic carrying Billy to the hospital, where he comforts his son during treatment.
Fifteen months after she walked out, Joanna returns to New York to claim Billy, and a custody battle ensues. During the custody hearing, both Ted and Joanna are unprepared for the brutal character assassinations that their lawyers unleash on the other. Margaret is forced to testify that she had advised an unhappy Joanna to leave Ted, though she also attempts to tell Joanna on the stand that her husband has profoundly changed. Eventually, the damaging facts that Ted was fired because of his conflicting parental responsibilities which forced him to take a lower-paying job come out in court, as do the details of Billy's accident. His original salary was noted as "$33,000 dollars a year" (equivalent to $113,919 in 2018), whereas he was forced to admit that his new salary was only "$28,200" (equivalent to $97,349 in 2018), after Joanna has told the court that her "present salary" as a sportswear designer is "$31,000 a year".
The court awards custody to Joanna, a decision mostly based on the assumption that a child is best raised by his mother. Ted discusses appealing the case, but his lawyer warns that Billy himself would have to take the stand in the resulting trial. Ted cannot bear the thought of submitting his child to such an ordeal, and decides not to contest custody.
On the morning that Billy is to move in with Joanna, Ted and Billy make breakfast together, mirroring the meal that Ted tried to cook the first morning after Joanna left. They share a tender hug, knowing that this is their last daily breakfast together. Joanna calls on the intercom, asking Ted to come down to the lobby alone. When he arrives she tells Ted how much she loves and wants Billy, but she knows that his true home is with Ted, and therefore will not take custody of him. She asks Ted if she can go up and see Billy, and Ted says that would be fine. As they are about to enter the elevator together, Ted tells Joanna that he will stay downstairs to allow Joanna to see Billy in private. After she enters the elevator, Joanna wipes tears from her face and asks her former husband "How do I look?" As the elevator doors start to close on Joanna, Ted answers, "You look terrific."
- Dustin Hoffman as Ted Kramer
- Meryl Streep as Joanna (Stern) Kramer
- Justin Henry as Billy Kramer
- Jane Alexander as Margaret Phelps
- Petra King as Petie Phelps
- Melissa Morell as Kim Phelps
- Howard Duff as John Shaunessy
- George Coe as Jim O'Connor
- JoBeth Williams as Phyllis Bernard
- Howland Chamberlain as Judge Atkins
- Dan Tyra as Court Clerk
Kate Jackson was originally offered the role played by Meryl Streep but was forced to turn it down. At the time, Jackson was appearing in the TV series Charlie's Angels, and producer Aaron Spelling told her that they were unable to rearrange the shooting schedule to give her time off to do the film. The part was then offered to various other actresses including Faye Dunaway, Jane Fonda and Ali MacGraw, all of whom turned it down.
Streep was initially cast as Phyllis (the role eventually given to JoBeth Williams), but she was able to force her way into auditioning for Joanna in front of Hoffman, Benton and Jaffe. She found the character in the novel and script unsympathetic, ("an ogre, a princess, an ass", as she called her) and insisted on approaching Joanna from a more sympathetic point of view. Hoffman believed that the recent loss of her fiancé, John Cazale, only months earlier, gave Streep an emotional edge and "still-fresh pain" to draw on for the performance. Streep was only contracted to work 12 days on the film.
Gail Strickland was first cast as Ted's neighbor Margaret, but departed after a week of filming (according to Columbia Pictures due to "artistic differences") and was replaced by Jane Alexander. The truth was that Strickland was so intimidated by Hoffman while filming their scenes together that she developed a nervous stammer which made her lines unintelligible. Strickland herself disputes this account, saying that she couldn't quickly memorize the improvised lines that Hoffman gave her, which agitated him and led to her firing two days later.
Cinematographer Néstor Almendros, a collaborator on numerous François Truffaut films, had been hired with the expectation that Truffaut would direct. Truffaut seriously considered it, but was too busy with his own projects and suggested screenwriter Robert Benton direct.
Hoffman has been widely reported in different media to have harassed Streep during the making of the movie, and the two had a contentious working relationship as a result. In a 1979 Time magazine interview, Streep claimed that Hoffman groped her breast on their first meeting. The two actors battled over their characters, with Streep wanting to portray Joanna as more sympathetic and vulnerable than she was written. As a famously committed method actor, Hoffman would also hurl insults and obscenities at Streep, taunting her with the name of her recently deceased fiancé, John Cazale, to draw a better performance out of her. He famously threw a wine glass against the wall without telling her (although he did inform the cameraman beforehand), which shattered and sent glass shards into her hair. Her response was: "Next time you do that, I'd appreciate you letting me know." 
In 2018, Streep told The New York Times that Hoffman had slapped her hard without warning while filming a scene: "this was my first movie, and it was my first take in my first movie, and he just slapped me. And you see it in the movie. It was overstepping."
The film received positive reviews from critics. It holds a 91% approval rating on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, with an average score of 7.9/10. The consensus reads: "The divorce subject isn't as shocking, but the film is still a thoughtful, well-acted drama that resists the urge to take sides or give easy answers."
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film four stars, giving praise to Benton's screenplay: "His characters aren't just talking to each other, they're revealing things about themselves and can sometimes be seen in the act of learning about their own motives. That's what makes Kramer vs. Kramer such a touching film: We get the feeling at times that personalities are changing and decisions are being made even as we watch them." Vincent Canby of The New York Times called it a "fine, witty, moving, most intelligent adaptation of Avery Corman's best-selling novel," with Streep giving "one of the major performances of the year" and Hoffman "splendid in one of the two or three best roles of his career." Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune gave the film four stars out of four and wrote, "'Kramer vs. Kramer' never loses its low-key, realistic touch. You will sit at the end of the film wondering why we don't see more pictures like this. After all, its story is not all that unusual." He thought that Hoffman gave "one of his most memorable performances" and "should win the Academy Award next April." Variety wrote, "Stories on screen about men leaving women, and women leaving men have been abundant as of late, but hardly any has grappled with the issue in such a forthright and honest fashion as 'Kramer' ... While a nasty court battle ensues, the human focus is never abandoned, and it's to the credit of not only Benton and Jaffe, but especially Hoffman and Streep, that both leading characters emerge as credible and sympathetic." Charles Champlin of the Los Angeles Times declared it "as nearly perfect a film as can be" and "a motion picture with an emotional wallop second to none this year." Gary Arnold of The Washington Post called the film "a triumph of partisan pathos, a celebration of father-son bonding that astutely succeeds where tearjerkers like 'The Champ' so mawkishly failed."
Shortly after the film's release, The New York Times and Time magazine published separate articles in which members of the bar and bench criticized the court battle scenes as "legally out of date." According to the legal experts interviewed for the articles, a modern judge would have made use of psychological reports and also considered the wishes of the child; another criticism was that the option of joint custody was never explored.
Kramer vs. Kramer reflected a cultural shift which occurred during the 1970s, when ideas about motherhood and fatherhood were changing. The film was widely praised for the way in which it gave equal weight and importance to both Joanna and Ted's points of view.
Awards and nominations
- American Film Institute Lists
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies – Nominated
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) – Nominated
- AFI's 10 Top 10 – #3 Courtroom Drama
- Oscarblogger: Kramer vs. Kramer. Retrieved April 1, 2013
- "Kramer vs Kramer (1979)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2008-11-17.
- Kramer vs. Kramer (1979) Movie Script. Retrieved from https://www.springfieldspringfield.co.uk/movie_script.php?movie=kramer-vs-kramer.
- Spelling, Aaron; Graham, Jefferson (1996). A Prime-Time Life: An Autobiography. New York: St. Martin's Press. p. 112. ISBN 978-0-312-14268-1.
- Michael Schulman (2016-03-29). "How Meryl Streep Battled Dustin Hoffman, Retooled Her Role, and Won Her First Oscar". Vanity Fair. Retrieved 2018-01-03.
- "Oscar sidelights". Daily Variety. April 15, 1980. p. 4.
- "Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)". American Film Institute. Retrieved 2018-01-04.
- Hunter Harris (2018-01-03). "Meryl Streep Calls Out Dustin Hoffman for Kramer vs. Kramer slap: 'It was overstepping'". Vulture. Retrieved 2018-01-03.
- Ruth Graham (2017-11-02). "Meryl Streep once said Dustin Hoffman groped her breast the first time they met". Slate. Retrieved 2018-01-03.
- Michael Simkins (2016-03-31). "Method acting can go too far - just ask Dustin Hoffman". The Guardian. Retrieved 2018-01-03.
- Olivia Blair (2016-03-30). "Dustin Hoffman 'slapped and taunted Meryl Streep with the name of her dead boyfriend during filming', book claims". The Independent.
- Cara Buckley (2018-01-03). "Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks on the #MeToo Moment and 'The Post'". The New York Times. Retrieved 2018-01-03.
- "Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)". Retrieved April 29, 2010.
- Roger Ebert (December 1, 1979). "Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved April 29, 2010.
- Canby, Vincent (December 19, 1979). "Screen: Kramer vs. Kramer". The New York Times. C23.
- Siskel, Gene (December 19, 1979). "An American family on trial in the '70s". Chicago Tribune. Section 3, p. 1-2.
- "Film Reviews: Kramer Vs. Kramer". Variety. November 28, 1979. 16.
- Champlin, Charles (December 16, 1979). "Kramer vs. Kramer: Living Anguished Realities". Los Angeles Times. Calendar, p. 1.
- Arnold, Gary (December 19, 1979). "'Kramer vs. Kramer': The Family Divided". The Washington Post. C1.
- Dullea, Georgia (December 21, 1979). "Child Custody: Jurists Weigh Film vs. Life". The New York Times. B6.
- "Custody: Kramer vs. Reality". Time. February 4, 1980. p. 77.
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies Nominees
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) Ballot
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