Kramer vs. Kramer
Oscar posters 79.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byRobert Benton
Screenplay byRobert Benton
Based onKramer Versus Kramer
1977 novel
by Avery Corman
Produced byRichard Fischoff
Stanley R. Jaffe
Starring
CinematographyNéstor Almendros
Edited byGerald B. Greenberg
Music byPaul Gemignani
Herb Harris
John Kander
Erma E. Levin
Roy B. Yokelson
Antonio Vivaldi
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
  • December 19, 1979 (1979-12-19)
Running time
105 minutes
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Budget$8 million[1]
Box office$173 million

Kramer vs. Kramer is a 1979 American legal drama film written and directed by Robert Benton, based on Avery Corman's 1977 novel of the same name. 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 the psychology and fallout of divorce and touches upon prevailing or emerging social issues such as gender roles, women's rights, feminism, fathers' rights, work-life balance, and single parents.

Kramer vs. Kramer was theatrically released on December 19, 1979, by Columbia Pictures. It was a major critical and commercial success, grossing over $173 million on an $8 million budget, becoming the highest-grossing film of 1979 in the United States and Canada and receiving a leading nine nominations at the 52nd Academy Awards, winning five (more than any other film nominated that year); Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (for Hoffman), Best Supporting Actress (for Streep), and Best Adapted Screenplay.

Plot

Workaholic New York City advertising executive Ted Kramer has just signed a very important account and been promoted. Sharing the good news with his wife Joanna, he learns that she is leaving him and their son Billy. Ted and Billy initially resent one another as Ted no longer has time for his increased workload, and Billy misses his mother. Ted and Billy eventually learn to cope and bond.

Ted's business associate Phyllis Bernard accepts Ted's invitation to dinner and they end up sleeping together in his apartment. A groggy Phyllis wakes to go to the bathroom when Billy comes into the corridor at the same moment and sees her naked. She covers herself with her hands and makes small talk with the innocently oblivious Billy.

Ted befriends his neighbor Margaret Phelps, in whom Joanna had confided. As a fellow single parent, she and Ted become kindred spirits. As the two sit in the park watching their children play, Billy falls off the jungle gym resulting in a gash to his face. Ted runs several blocks through traffic carrying Billy to the hospital, where he comforts his son during treatment.

Fifteen months after walking out, Joanna returns from California to claim Billy, and a custody battle ensues. Neither Ted nor Joanna are prepared for the brutal character assassinations their lawyers unleash. While on the witness stand, Margaret is compelled to confirm she had advised an unhappy Joanna to leave Ted, though she also attempts to tell Joanna that her husband has profoundly changed. Ted's firing from his job and Billy's accident are brought up to discredit Ted.

The court awards custody to Joanna. Ted wants to appeal, saying he will pay any price, but when his lawyer advises that the price would be to put Billy on the stand he says he cannot do that and decides not to contest custody.

On the morning that Joanna is to collect Billy, Ted and Billy make breakfast together. Joanna calls on the intercom asking Ted to come down to the lobby alone. In the lobby she tells Ted how she had been wishing she had painted Billy's new room like his old one so he'd think he was waking up at home. She then realized Billy's true home is with Ted. She loves Billy very much and won't be taking him with her. She asks if she can go up and talk to Billy, and Ted says he'll wait downstairs. She enters the elevator wiping away tears and asks how she looks. Ted says "Terrific".

Cast

Production

Producer Stanley R. Jaffe and writer and director Robert Benton read Avery Corman's source novel and were so moved by the story that they bought the rights to make it into a movie. Dustin Hoffman was the only actor they envisioned in the lead role of Ted Kramer.

Hoffman, himself going through a divorce at the time, initially turned down the role. He has since stated that at that time he had wanted to quit film acting and return to the stage due to his depression and distaste for Hollywood. While Jaffe and Benton were courting Hoffman, James Caan was offered the role but turned it down as he was concerned the film would be a flop.[2] Al Pacino was offered the role but felt that it was not for him.[3] Jon Voight turned down the role. Hoffman met with Jaffe and Benton at a London hotel during the making of Agatha and was convinced to accept the role. Hoffman has credited Benton and this film for rejuvenating his love of film acting and inspiring the emotional level of many scenes. Hoffman was reminded of his love for children and "got closer being a father by playing a father."

Benton and Jaffe selected Justin Henry to play Billy. Hoffman worked extensively with Henry, then 7 years old, in each scene to put him at ease. Benton encouraged Henry to improvise to make his performance more natural. The famous ice cream scene where Billy defies Ted by skipping dinner and eating ice cream was all improvised by Hoffman and Henry. Hoffman contributed many personal moments and dialogue; Benton offered shared screenplay credit but Hoffman declined.

Kate Jackson was offered the role of Joanna Kramer but had to turn it down as producer Aaron Spelling was unable to rearrange the shooting schedule of the TV series Charlie's Angels, in which Jackson was starring.[4] The part was offered to Faye Dunaway, Jane Fonda and Ali MacGraw, before Meryl Streep was cast.

Streep was initially cast as Phyllis (the role eventually taken by 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 approached Joanna from a more sympathetic point of view.[5] Hoffman believed that the death of Streep's fiancé, John Cazale, only months earlier, gave her an emotional edge and "still-fresh pain" to draw on for the performance.[5] Streep was only contracted to work 12 days on the film.[6]

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.[7] Michael Schulman claims Strickland was so rattled by the intensity of filming with Hoffman that she developed a stammer, making her lines difficult to follow.[5] Strickland herself disputes this account, saying that she couldn't quickly memorize improvised lines that Hoffman gave her, which agitated him and she was fired two days later.[5]

Cinematographer Néstor Almendros, a collaborator on numerous François Truffaut films, had been hired with the expectation that Truffaut would direct. Truffaut turned it down as he was busy with his own projects, and suggested screenwriter Robert Benton direct the film himself.

JoBeth Williams was hesitant about shucking her clothes, especially in the scene with a young Justin Henry. "I was afraid my nudity would traumatize the little boy," she said.[8]

Controversy

Hoffman has been widely reported to have harassed Streep during the making of the movie, and the two had a contentious working relationship.[5][9] In a 1979 Time magazine interview, Streep claimed that Hoffman groped her breast on their first meeting.[10] When Streep advocated portraying Joanna as more sympathetic and vulnerable than she was written, she received pushback from Hoffman.[5] Such was his commitment to method acting,[11] he would hurl insults and obscenities at Streep, taunt her with the name of her recently deceased fiancé, John Cazale, claiming it was designed to draw a better performance from her.[12] He famously shattered a wine glass against the wall without telling her (although he did inform the cameraman beforehand), sending glass shards into her hair. Her response was: "Next time you do that, I'd appreciate you letting me know."[5] Hoffman slapped her hard without warning while filming a scene, she said in 2018: "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."[13]

Reception

Kramer vs. Kramer received positive reviews from critics. It holds an 89% approval rating on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes based on 99 reviews, with an average score of 8.20/10. 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."[14]

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."[15] 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."[16] 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."[17] 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."[18] 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."[19] 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."[20] Stanley Kauffmann of The New Republic wrote "All the people go through expected difficulties the way that runners take the hurdles in a track event: no surprise in it, it's just a question of how they do it. But the actors make it more."[21]

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.[22][23]

In 2003, The New York Times placed the film on its Best 1000 Movies Ever list.[24]

The film grossed $5,559,722 in its opening week from 534 theatres.[25] It went on to gross $106.3 million in the United States and Canada.[26] In its first 13 weeks overseas, it had grossed over $67 million.[27] It went on to become Columbia's highest-grossing film overseas with theatrical rentals of $57 million until surpassed in 1990 by Look Who's Talking (released by Columbia TriStar internationally).[28]

Cultural impact

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.[15]

The film made use of the first movement of Antonio Vivaldi's Mandolin Concerto in C Major, making the piece more familiar among classical music listeners.

The song, Mon fils, ma bataille, about a painful divorce and a father's struggle to keep custody of his child, was inspired by Daniel Balavoine's parents' divorce, his guitarist Colin Swinburne's divorce and also by the film Kramer vs. Kramer (1980).

Awards and nominations

Award Category Nominee(s) Result
Academy Awards Best Picture Stanley R. Jaffe Won
Best Director Robert Benton Won
Best Actor Dustin Hoffman Won
Best Supporting Actor Justin Henry Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Jane Alexander Nominated
Meryl Streep Won
Best Screenplay – Based on Material from Another Medium Robert Benton Won
Best Cinematography Néstor Almendros Nominated
Best Film Editing Gerald B. Greenberg Nominated
Blue Ribbon Awards Best Foreign Language Film Robert Benton Won
British Academy Film Awards Best Film Stanley R. Jaffe Nominated
Best Direction Robert Benton Nominated
Best Actor in a Leading Role Dustin Hoffman Nominated
Best Actress in a Leading Role Meryl Streep Nominated
Best Screenplay Robert Benton Nominated
Best Editing Gerald B. Greenberg Nominated
César Awards Best Foreign Film Robert Benton Nominated
David di Donatello Awards Best Foreign Film Won
Best Foreign Actor Dustin Hoffman Won[a]
Special David Justin Henry Won
Directors Guild of America Awards Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures Robert Benton Won
Fotogramas de Plata Best Foreign Performer Dustin Hoffman Nominated
Meryl Streep (Also for Manhattan) Nominated
Golden Globe Awards Best Motion Picture – Drama Won
Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama Dustin Hoffman Won
Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture Justin Henry Nominated
Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture Jane Alexander Nominated
Meryl Streep Won
Best Director – Motion Picture Robert Benton Nominated
Best Screenplay – Motion Picture Won
New Star of the Year – Actor Justin Henry Nominated
Hochi Film Awards Best International Picture Robert Benton Won
Japan Academy Film Prize Outstanding Foreign Language Film Won
Jupiter Awards Best International Actor Dustin Hoffman Nominated
Kansas City Film Critics Circle Awards Best Film Robert Benton Won
Best Director Won
Best Actor Dustin Hoffman Won
Best Supporting Actress Meryl Streep Won
Kinema Junpo Awards Best Foreign Film Robert Benton Won
Korean Association of Film Critics Awards Best Foreign Film Won
Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards Best Film Won
Best Director Won
Best Actor Dustin Hoffman Won
Best Supporting Actress Meryl Streep (also for Manhattan and The Seduction of Joe Tynan) Won
National Board of Review Awards Top Ten Films Won
Best Supporting Actress Meryl Streep (also for Manhattan and The Seduction of Joe Tynan) Won
National Society of Film Critics Awards Best Film Robert Benton Nominated
Best Director Won
Best Actor Dustin Hoffman Won
Best Supporting Actress Jane Alexander Nominated
Meryl Streep (also for Manhattan and The Seduction of Joe Tynan) Won
New York Film Critics Circle Awards Best Film Robert Benton Won
Best Director Nominated
Best Actor Dustin Hoffman Won
Best Supporting Actress Jane Alexander Nominated
Meryl Streep (also for The Seduction of Joe Tynan) Won
Online Film & Television Association Awards Hall of Fame – Motion Picture Won
Writers Guild of America Awards Best Drama Adapted from Another Medium Robert Benton Won
Young Artist Awards Best Leading Young Actor in a Feature Film Justin Henry Won
American Film Institute Lists

Adaptation

In 1990, the film was remade in Turkish as Oğulcan, directed and acted by Cüneyt Arkın, in Hindi as Akele Hum Akele Tum in 1995, starring Aamir Khan and Manisha Koirala and in Urdu as Zindagi Kitni Haseen Hay in 2016 starring Sajal Ali and Feroze Khan.

See also

Explanatory notes

References

  1. ^ Oscarblogger: Kramer vs. Kramer Archived 2014-08-15 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved April 1, 2013
  2. ^ "Caan Rues the Bad Choices That Prompted Him to Turn Down Movies". 12 September 2005.
  3. ^ Grobel, Lawrence (22 April 2008). Al Pacino. ISBN 9781416955566.
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Michael Schulman (2016-03-29). "How Meryl Streep Battled Dustin Hoffman, Retooled Her Role, and Won Her First Oscar". Vanity Fair. Archived from the original on 2017-12-19. Retrieved 2018-01-03.
  6. ^ "Oscar sidelights". Daily Variety. April 15, 1980. p. 4.
  7. ^ "Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)". American Film Institute. Retrieved 2018-01-04.
  8. ^ "Scott's World: Naked Lady Finds Career". www.upi.com. Retrieved 13 February 2022.
  9. ^ Hunter Harris (2018-01-03). "Meryl Streep Calls Out Dustin Hoffman for Kramer vs. Kramer slap: 'It was overstepping'". Vulture. Retrieved 2018-01-03.
  10. ^ Ruth Graham (2017-11-02). "Meryl Streep once said Dustin Hoffman groped her breast the first time they met". Slate. Archived from the original on 2017-11-10. Retrieved 2018-01-03.
  11. ^ Michael Simkins (2016-03-31). "Method acting can go too far - just ask Dustin Hoffman". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 2019-12-03. Retrieved 2018-01-03.
  12. ^ 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.
  13. ^ Cara Buckley (2018-01-03). "Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks on the #MeToo Moment and 'The Post'". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 2018-01-03. Retrieved 2018-01-03.
  14. ^ Kramer vs. Kramer at Rotten Tomatoes
  15. ^ a b Roger Ebert (December 1, 1979). "Kramer vs. Kramer". Chicago Sun-Times. Archived from the original on May 9, 2013. Retrieved April 29, 2010.
  16. ^ Canby, Vincent (December 19, 1979). "Screen: Kramer vs. Kramer". Archived 2020-06-05 at the Wayback Machine The New York Times. C23.
  17. ^ Siskel, Gene (December 19, 1979). "An American family on trial in the '70s". Chicago Tribune. Section 3, p. 1-2.
  18. ^ "Film Reviews: Kramer Vs. Kramer". Variety. November 28, 1979. p. 16.
  19. ^ Champlin, Charles (December 16, 1979). "Kramer vs. Kramer: Living Anguished Realities". Los Angeles Times. Calendar, p. 1.
  20. ^ Arnold, Gary (December 19, 1979). "'Kramer vs. Kramer': The Family Divided". The Washington Post. C1.
  21. ^ Kauffmann, Stanley (December 22, 1979). "Here Be Actors: A review of 'Kramer vs. Kramer'". The New Republic. Archived from the original on August 3, 2020. Retrieved June 4, 2020.
  22. ^ Dullea, Georgia (December 21, 1979). "Child Custody: Jurists Weigh Film vs. Life". The New York Times. B6.
  23. ^ "Custody: Kramer vs. Reality". Time. February 4, 1980. p. 77.
  24. ^ "Movies". The New York Times. 2003-04-29. Archived from the original on 2008-06-12. Retrieved 2020-09-27.
  25. ^ Pollock, Dale (January 2, 1980). "Christmas Pix Are Perking; 'Star Trek,' 'Jerk' Pacing Field". Variety. p. 9.
  26. ^ "Kramer vs Kramer (1979)". Box Office Mojo. Archived from the original on 2009-03-01. Retrieved 2008-11-17.
  27. ^ "Kramer vs. Kramer (advertisement)". Variety. June 11, 1980. pp. 10–11.
  28. ^ "With $55-mil rentals, 'Look Who's Talking' becomes Col's No. 2 moneymaker o'seas". Variety. August 15, 1990. p. 42.
  29. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies Nominees" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 2013-10-26. Retrieved 2011-12-10.
  30. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) Ballot" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 2020-11-12. Retrieved 2011-12-10.