Kramer vs. Kramer

1979

Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)

TOMATOMETER

Critic Consensus: 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.

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Movie Info

Joanna Kramer (Meryl Streep) walks out on her advertising-art-director husband Michael (Dustin Hoffman). Though he is obviously insensitive to everyone's feelings but his own, Michael has not lost his wife because of this; she simply wants to go out and "find herself". Also left behind is the Kramers' 6-year-old son Billy (Justin Henry), whom Michael barely knows. At first, both father and son resent each other's company, but before long they have formed a strong bond of love and mutual respect. So devoted a father does Michael become that he begins neglecting his work and loses his job. Suddenly, Joanna reenters his life, announcing that she now has a well-paying job herself, and wants full custody of Billy. During the subsequent court battle, Michael takes a job far beneath his talents to prove that he's a worthy parent. Still, he loses the case, though the film ends on a note of hope. In adapting Avery Corman's novel, writer/director Robert Benton wisely altered the character of Joanna Kramer from a spiteful shrew to a well-meaning but confused woman who merely wants what she thinks is best for herself and her child. Benton also sagaciously removed a secondary romance between Michael Kramer and his platonic lady friend Margaret Phelps (Jane Alexander). By refusing to truckle to the Obvious, Benton transformed Kramer vs. Kramer from a standard marital-breakup tale to a film of rare depth and honesty. An incredible moneymaker, Kramer vs. Kramer also did well for itself at Oscar time, winning awards for Best Picture, Best Actor (Hoffman), Best Supporting Actress (Streep-but who was she supporting?), Best Screenplay and Best Director.

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Cast

Dustin Hoffman
as Ted Kramer
Meryl Streep
as Joanna Kramer
Justin Henry
as Billy Kramer
Jane Alexander
as Margaret Phelps
Howard Duff
as John Shaunessy
George Coe
as Jim O'Connor
JoBeth Williams
as Phyllis Bernard
Bill Moor
as Gressen
Howland Chamberlain
as Judge Atkins
Howland Chamberlin
as Judge Atkins
Jack Ramage
as Spencer
Jess Osuna
as Ackerman
Nicholas Hormann
as Interviewer
Ellen Parker
as Teacher
Shelby Brammer
as Ted's Secretary
Carol Nadell
as Mrs. Kline
Judith Calder
as Receptionist
Dan Tyra
as Court Clerk
Petra King
as Petie Phelps
Melissa Morell
as Kim Phelps
Ingeborg Sorenson
as Woman at Christmas Party
Iris Alhanti
as Partygoer
Richard Barris
as Partygoer
Joann Friedman
as Partygoer
Joe Seneca
as Partygoer
Frederic W. Hand
as Street Musician
Scott Kuney
as Street Musician
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News & Interviews for Kramer vs. Kramer

Critic Reviews for Kramer vs. Kramer

All Critics (44) | Top Critics (12)

A triumph of partisan pathos, a celebration of father-son bonding that astutely succeeds were tearjerkers like "The Champ" so mawkishly failed.

May 6, 2017 | Full Review…

What Benton achieved with his screenplay he intensified with his direction. Each performance is a minor miracle of perfection - not only Hoffman's and Streep's, which dominate the picture, but each of the supporting roles as well.

Dec 19, 2016 | Full Review…

Kramer vs. Kramer is greatly enriched by its exceptional cast.

Feb 21, 2015 | Full Review…

It's an interesting movie to look back on for its attitudes: In the guise of being a consciousness-raiser it plumps for male tenderness and demonizes the mother who can't recognize how far her workaholic ex-hubbie has come.

Feb 19, 2013 | Full Review…

Kramer Vs. Kramer is a perceptive, touching, intelligent film about one of the raw sores of contemporary America, the dissolution of the family unit.

Feb 6, 2013 | Full Review…
Variety
Top Critic

Benton's direction must first be praised for his choice of actors and his collaboration with them.

Feb 6, 2013 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for Kramer vs. Kramer

A profoundly affecting family drama in which everything conspires for something so perfect that you must be dead if you are not moved, and it relies on a beautiful script that refuses to take sides and on exceptional performances by Dustin Hoffman, Meryl Streep and Justin Henry.

Carlos Magalhães
Carlos Magalhães

Super Reviewer

½

"Who's gonna read me my bedtime stories?" The 1970's has always been a decade of film that I've never withheld my appreciation for. I'd go as far to say that's it's been the best in terms of American cinema. It was the decade where we were introduced to some of the finest screen actors in DeNiro, Nicholson & Pacino. We had films of such high calibre as The Godfather's, One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, Taxi Driver, Mean Streets, The Deer Hunter, Dog Day Afternoon. I could go on and on here but I mention this because Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep where another two of these marvellous performers and Kramer vs Kramer one of the films that's so often forgotten about. Career man Ted Kramer (Dustin Hoffman) is so caught up with work that his wife Joanna (Meryl Streep) feels exhausted and unappreciated. She makes the decision to leave him but also decided to leave him with their six-year old son Billy (Justin Henry). Ted has to learn quickly how to be a hands-on father and by the time he gets used to it Joanna reappears claiming custody of Billy. As well as the 70's being a strong decade, much admiration has also went to films in terms of Oscar sweeps. Only three films in the history of the Academy Awards have won all top five awards (Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress & Screenplay). If you consider Kramer Vs Kramer for a moment, most wouldn't normally think that this film came close to that achievement. But it did. The only award that it didn't win was Best Actress but had Meryl Streep been considered in the leading actress category it might well have done. She won Best Supporting Actress instead which makes this film very close to achieving the full sweep. Resisting the temptation to be melodramatic, it's a fairly straightforward family drama. Films of these types tend to fall into courtroom drama's (of which this touches upon) but never falls prey to that sub-genre. The beauty in Kramer vs Kramer is not to rely on high tension or confrontation but on the human aspect of relationships and family life. It emotionally resonates by showing us the everyday; heated discussions, playtimes, bedtime stories and frustrating meal times. It might not sound like much but there's a real heartfelt authenticity in capturing these moments. Director Robert Benton, wisely, knows when to focus on his actors and has a marvellous ability to capture realism. As a result, he's aided with some stunningly delivered performances; both Hoffman and Streep are at the very top of their game and young Justin Henry is no less their equal as their young afflicted son caught in the middle. A beautifully realised dramatic piece that benefits from the whole cast and crew delivering honest work. It fully manages to capture and depict both the beauty and the difficulty of parenting and with a thoughtful intelligence, portrays the motivations and decisions from it's characters without ever passing judgment. Another one of the decade's true highlights. Mark Walker

Mark Walker
Mark Walker

Super Reviewer

½

Even in our contemporary time period, the roles of mother and father are implicit and gender biased. "Kramer vs. Kramer" was a revolutionary film at the time of its release because it wasn't afraid to take the position that men can be great caretakers in the same way women were traditionally shown to be. What most people find wanting with this film is that it seems to demonize the wife, while showing that the husband is just as capable in a soapy, melodramatic way. I disagree heartily, and attest that this film doesn't take any sides, and makes a point of creating fleshed out characters who have their own desires and fears, and especially faults. Ted (Hoffman) is a lousy husband who doesn't pay attention to the needs of his wife, and Joanna (Streep) leaves her son when she tries to find herself. Both have failed their family in obvious ways, but each cares for their son equally. That said, Ted's exploits as a newly single dad mimic the same problems that all parents contend with in their daily lives. He has to learn to be productive, nurturing, attentive, and be able to understand his son's concerns about his mother without taking a side. Hoffman is really demonstrative of someone finding his way, and we both pity him and feel angered by his previous dalliances in being a workaholic, and his inattentiveness at home. Streep plays a very complex character in Joanna, who really does want to take care of her son, but hasn't figured out how best to do it. The entire ending section of the film, when they fight each other, was riveting, if only because there was no one to truly root for. Each contends with their marital issues simply, and we understand the extent of what love truly means, even when the nuclear family suffers a meltdown.

Spencer S.
Spencer S.

Super Reviewer

In 1979, America was just beginning to see the effects of the women's movement on the american family. There was a great amount of role reversal in the home, and the divorce rates had begun to skyrocket. In "Kramer vs. Kramer", we witness the collapse of a marriage that before, in a more typical movie, would see the man walking out on the woman, leaving her to support and raise their child alone, but now sees the woman leaving, as she feels unfulfilled in life and wants something better (there aren't necessarily any villains in this movie, only victims). Ted Kramer (Dustin Hoffman) is the husband, climbing his way up the corporate ladder, making great business contacts while his family contacts languish. Joanna Kramer (Meryl Streep) is the wife, and the only reason she's stayed with him so long is her love for little Billy, their son. As the film opens, it's come to the point where her desperation and unhappiness have surpassed even the love for her son, and she's packing to leave. Ted arrives home, high on the news he may be made a V.P. at work, completely unaware of his wife's condition or their situation. "She's ruined one of the five best days of my life" he complains, after she's walked out on him (notice the emphasis is all on him). In the midst of all this selfishness, no one seems to notice that Billy has been virtually abandoned by both parents. No, he's no Oliver Twist: he has a home, he has food and clothing, and he wants for nothing, but the adults in his life, the people who are supposed to be foundation of his very person, are letting him down in a most cruel way. Being forced together, Ted and Billy must interact without the motherly intermediary present, and it's a learning experience for both father and son. Ted goes from ignoring his son and being largely dismissive to realizing just how valuable that child is to his existence, and how much that child depends on him for literally everything. It's only after the immensity of this "parenthood thing" dawns on Ted that Joanna comes back into the picture, and after a 18-month absence, sues Ted for custody of their son. Perhaps it takes becoming a parent to truly realize the stakes of a movie like Kramer vs. Kramer. There are few things more powerful than the love a parent has for their child (I know I would without hesitation give my life for my daughter, and even a thought of some harm be-fouling her can put literal, physical tears in my eyes almost in an instant), and yet as parents, we are capable of so much destruction in these little lives. The extent to which we can emotionally cripple our own offspring is both shocking and horrifying. They're little people, very small physically, and sometimes it's easier to ignore them while focusing on our own needs, and not even realize what it is that we're doing until it's too late. Even though I've never gone through a divorce, I can empathize with the emotions this movie projects. Parenthood is perhaps the less glamourous of the 'big emotions' that make for movie material (Death and Romantic Love usually get all the glory), but parenthood is just as powerful, just as devastating as any other great mystery of life.

Devon Bott
Devon Bott

Super Reviewer

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