Kramer vs. Kramer

Critics 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.

89%

TOMATOMETER

Total Count: 47

89%

Audience Score

User Ratings: 43,352
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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.

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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Critic Reviews for Kramer vs. Kramer

All Critics (47) | Top Critics (12) | Fresh (42) | Rotten (5)

  • 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…

    Dale Pollock

    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

  • Dec 19, 2015
    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 M Super Reviewer
  • Jan 16, 2015
    "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 W Super Reviewer
  • Aug 25, 2014
    You best believe that this is a case of Kramer vs. Kramer, because I kind of blame Michael Richards for that "totally racially fair" situation in which he faced the destruction of his career for being a white man who said a slur in a joke, as he had to have known that he was already on the blacks' bad side for being involved in a show whose theme riff featured slap bass produced on a keyboard. Speaking of awkward jokes, you better believe that this film isn't about that Kramer, because this film predates, not simply that incident, but "Seinfeld" itself, by almost ten years, if you can believe it. That was the long way to tell you that this film is a little old, when really, all I had to do was say that this film stars Dustin Hoffman, because if you had a drama in the '70s, then Hoffman had to be somewhere in there, especially if it was some kind of edgy drama. I can still hear the echoes of the screams of religious groups and parents from way back in 1969, because they knew that when they gave Best Picture to "Midnight Cowboy", an X-rated film about a gay male prostitute, it was the end of musicals and innocence in cinema, and sure enough, this film about divorce and the deconstruction of the family unit capped off a decade in which the Oscars decorated films about war, cops chasing junkies, bank robbers, gangsters, people in a mental institution, violent sports, and even sex and drugs in a Woody Allen film. Jeez, it sounds like the '70s was my kind of era, because I much prefer brutal realism over colorful musicals and what have you, although those three-hour-long fluff pieces were a little more lively than a three-hour-long, slow-burn drama about people playing Russian roulette and dealing with 'Nam. No, I still like "The Deer Hunter" better than something like "My Fair Lady", but, as surely as the guys in "The Deer Hunter" had war flashbacks, seeing Meryl Streep in this film had to have brought up memories of the previous year's Best Picture winner and left a couple people to dose off, although, in all fairness, when this film came out, there were plenty of people still watching "The Deer Hunter". Speaking of taking the long route to a film, with Hoffman and Streep, you know that this film was good, and sure enough, it is, although, as my tap dancing around talking about it might tell you, intrigue is a little limited, with entertainment value. The score is often, well, oddly enough, rather perky when it is, in fact played with, and when it's not, it's tender enough to use resonance to make up for liveliness, but this is a mostly subdued and naturalist affair, with plenty of dialogue and other stuff going on to keep entertainment value adequate, but still leaving plenty of room for bland, almost dull dry spells in direction, as one can imagine, considering the fat around the edges of the storytelling. Running just a little bit over 100 minutes, this film isn't too long, in general, that is, but by its own right, it's a little too long, with pseudo-filler that drags the film along pretty repetitiously, often aimlessly, to where storytelling finds itself sticking with each individual segment for way too blasted long. Naturally, that means that when the focus of the narrative finally shifts, it sort of jars, whether it be focusing on a father and his son bonding when they find themselves stuck together, or focusing on a man and his wife fighting over that child, and as surely as this film's conflicts require two culprits, this almost episodic focal unevenness derives from a combination of all of the dragging, and, as irony would have it, underdevelopment. The expository shortcomings peak with the lacking immediate development segment, as a big issue during the body of the film, as I said, is overdevelopment, but when exposition lapses, this generally very humanized drama loses some sense of motivation, and that gives you an opportunity to see the limitations of this story's depths. Well, I don't suppose this story concept is lacking in depth, because it's a very thematically weighty drama, it's just that the story is so minimalist, and the longer it takes to unravel, and the less time it dedicates to really fleshing itself out, the natural shortcomings are brought further and further to light, challenging one's investment. Reward value is ultimately firmly secured, and it's not like the film loses momentum as it goes along, for engagement value thickens with the plot as it progresses, and yet, cold spells make more glaring the dragging, and expository shortcomings make worse the unevenness of this layered drama. The final product feels held back, but it's still very rewarding, and that's because for every natural shortcoming which is emphasized by missteps, there is a conceptual value which is emphasized by strengths. Of course, there's no disregarding the importance of this film's subject matter as an audaciously refreshing and realistic portrait on family dysfunction so considerable that it leads to separation, which then leaves loved ones to face anything from finding a new life to facing off against each other to secure the assets of the old life, and although such a story concept isn't especially sizable in scale, its dramatic potential runs deep. Robert Benton knows this, even as screenwriter, hitting some expository shortcomings and plenty of excess, - the combination of which begets focal unevenness - but meeting it all with some solid dialogue and memorable set pieces, whose consistency helps keep momentum up, until broken by nuances and fearless dramatics which really do justice to this drama. This film doesn't exactly sugarcoat its subject matter, and it's still had to face themes like this to this day, long into the movement to portray the deconstruction of the family unit that this film helped in kicking off, but one has to respect the bravery and depth of Benton's portrayal, both as an often very well-balanced screenwriter, and as a pretty strong director. Benton's subdued directorial storytelling all but dulls things down a bit when his script loses material, but when it's effective, it's pretty intelligent, with plays on score work that, whether they be colorful to contrast the bleakness, or fittingly somber, compliment a tone that mostly thrives on quiet intensity which is rarely too cold, and often near-piercing. There isn't much dynamicity to the dramatic tone of this film, thus, the conceptual heights in the dramatics aren't too penetrating, but Benton's directorial resonance follows the thickening of the plot, augmenting momentum that could have easily fallen as things steadily progressed, and doing so with a great deal of help from the onscreen talents who are tightly focused upon in this character drama. Following two main segments, - the first focusing on a single father bonding with his child, and the second focusing on a custody battle over said child - this film alternates between two secondary leads, both of whom are worthy, with the very young Justin Henry being surprisingly effective in his layered portrayal of an innocent child struggling with the loss of one parent, the embracing of the other, and standing at the center of the two's conflicts, while Meryl Streep proves to be devastating in her portrayal of an estranged mother struggling to find herself as an individual and as a mother, although this drama largely rides on the back of Dustin Hoffman, who carries the final product as much as anyone, with a tremendous deal of nuance which sells the transformation of a man into a better father, who will do what it takes to give his child what he can, even if that means facing off against the child's mother. The performances are mostly subtle, but they are powerful, and so important in this intimate film, defining, or rather, securing the definition of this fearless, well-drawn drama whose depth transcends both natural and consequential shortcomings, and makes for a very compelling final product. When the case is closed, cold spells in direction dulls things down, while a combination of aimless dragging and a degree of underdevelopment emphasize what natural shortcomings there are to this minimalist, but conceptually worthy story, which is carried enough by generally well-nuanced writing, resonant direction, and powerful performances by Justin Henry, Meryl Streep and Dustin Hoffman to carry "Kramer vs. Kramer" as a rewardingly realized study on the struggles of parents who largely struggle over their child. 3/5 - Good
    Cameron J Super Reviewer
  • Nov 15, 2013
    Perhaps this a bit dated but the idea of divorces and parental rights was still a relatively unexplored area at the time that Kramer vs. Kramer was created. An interesting choice to demonize the mother but it adds to the intrigue and Hoffman and Streep are more than up for this challenge.
    John B Super Reviewer

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