The Best Picture Winners: Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)

| December 20, 2017

Oscar’s 90th birthday is just around the corner and to celebrate, every other day from now through March 4th, I will be taking a look at each and every film selected for his top award – the good, the bad and the sometimes not-so deserving.

God love The Academy for trying to stay topical.

Between 1979 and 1981 the divorce rate in The United States was at an all-time high.  So, it must have given the voters of The Academy much pleasure in selecting a film for its Best Picture award that looked the subject squarely in the eye.  At the time, Kramer vs. Kramer was heavily lauded for taking a stand on the emerging cultural shift in the traditional gender roles that were occurring in the country.

Kramer vs. Kramer was based on a sudzy melodramatic best seller (which I’ve read) by a magazine publisher turned novelist named Avery Corman – who also wrote the book “Oh, God!”  Kramer told the story of work-obsessed family man, Ted Kramer (Best Actor winner Dustin Hoffman) whose wife Joanna (Supporting Actress winner Meryl Streep) suddenly walks out one day because she she needs to find herself, leaving Ted to raise an eight year-old son that he hardly knows.

The movie is really held up by two fine performances, first by Hoffman as a befuddled man who can work wonders on the job but is totally out to sea when it comes to dealing with the simplest domestic issue; and by Streep as a woman whose inward trajectory never really seemed prepared for motherhood.

Yet, while I admire the film’s goals, I’m always a little put off by how super-satisfied the script is that in the end it has proven that a man can do a woman’s job just as well as she can.  Also, I’m a little put off by the court decision which allows that Joanna should be given sole custody of their son Billy on the basis of the fact that she’s the mother, and a child needs his mother.  But . . . she walked out!  She left!  She abandoned her family!  Why is she given custody?  That’s a point that I never really understood and, yes, I know it ends with her doing the right thing, but her initial decision should have come with far more bitter consequences.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.