Quick recap: Joanna Kramer, unhappy in her marriage, chooses to leave her son and husband to find herself. Her husband, a workaholic, is left with the full responsibility of a child. He slowly builds up a new life for him and his son until Joanna comes back into the picture and sues for custody.
Fun(?) fact: The ice cream scene between Billy and his father was completely improvised, but the director loved it so much he kept it in the film.
My thoughts: A few years ago, I decided to try and watch all Academy award winners. Kramer vs. Kramer was first on my list and I remember enjoying it but not really identifying with it. Fast forward 4 years and I am married with a 4 year old boy. It was interesting to find myself almost unable to watch some scenes because now I was identifying with it too much. I understood the perspective of the father, the mother and even the kid. It would’ve been easy to leave it at that: a sad, but realistic portrayal of divorce. But the more I thought about, the more complicated everything was.
So first of all, there is the character of Ted Kramer. Before I go any further, I need to point out how realistic all the performances were. Although the subject is an emotional one, all of the characters showed enough restraint so the audience could identify but not feel awkward. As for Ted Kramer, his character is the typical father seen during that time period. He devotes his time to his work and that is his way to show he loves his family. It is also the reason his wife leaves him. I really enjoyed watching the transformation as Kramer learned to care for his son, and it was especially evident when comparing the first time the two make French toast together to the last time. As was portrayed in the movie, Kramer wasn’t a ‘bad husband’: no abuse or neglect. But he also wasn’t very sympathetic towards his wife’s needs. Kramer spends the entire movie angry at his ex-wife and it isn’t until the very last scene that I believe he sees her as a real person, not just the mother of his child.
I didn’t pay much attention to the character of Joanna Kramer the first time around, but found her much more fascinating and complicated this time. It’s very easy to cast her off as the villain in the film, seeing as how she willingly left her child to take care of herself. It seems such a cold thing to do and an open and shut case as to who should get Billy. I guess I am speaking as someone who lives in 2014, but I think the health of the mother is just as vital to a child as physically being there. Joanna was depressed and could no longer handle motherhood. She had no other job and it didn’t seem many friends, so her main source of conversation came from a 6 year old. There are many women who could do that, no problem. But there are many more who are still good mothers, yet need the balance and the chance to do something for themselves. In this case, it took Joanna leaving for her to get back on track. It might also have been the best solution for her to gain some sanity. I disagree with her fighting custody, but that was also the norm of the tim- for the mother to have primary custody. The final scene was heart wrenching, as Joanna understood where Billy really belonged. In the best interest of the child, Billy needed both parents. Joanna made the decision to leave, but that doesn’t mean she ever stopped loving her child and wanting him.
Final review: 3/5. Almost a 4, but I felt the courtroom scene to be a little silly. When the lawyer grilled Ted about losing his job because he missed a deadline, he was trying to show that he couldn’t be relied on. But the reason he missed the deadline was to take care of his son, therefore proving that he put his child before anything else.
Up next: Mr. Deeds Goes to Town