This edition of the Best Picture Series is certainly much lower key, less flashy film than Chicago. This dramatic film relies entirely on deeply personal convincing performances in a very realistic human experience. Let’s take a look.
Written and Directed by: Robert Benton Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Meryl Streep, Justin Henry, and Jane Alexander
Ted Kramer (Hoffman) is a career focused husband who’s wife Joanna (Streep) leaves him after feeling emotionally neglected for most of their marriage. Along with walking out on her husband, she leaves her 6-year-old son Billy in his care. At first Ted has problems adjusting to single fatherhood and can’t easily relate to his son who he has spent little time personally parenting over the years. Over the course of the next year this all changes as he grows into the role and they build a comfortable, loving life together while he relies on his neighbor Margaret, who recently also went though a divorce, for support. Things come to a head when Joanna returns from a year of self-discovery and decides to fight for custody.
Kramer vs. Kramer is a poignant human story piece and is acted impeccably in this simple piece of film. Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep play two well crafted characters that are multidimensional and incredibly realistic. You understand these two individuals–their motivations and flaws–and so the story resonates. The thing is this isn’t all that interesting. The story is cut and dry and the characters, though fleshed out, aren’t that unique. You feel a lot for the people in the film but after finishing it I didn’t feel all that strongly about the film itself. If I was to relate it to something more recent, The Descendents handled a lot of the same issues–marriage in crisis (under much different duress obviously), single husband trying to be a good dad, uncertain future, etc. However, that movie felt much more refreshing and compelling.
The biggest problem might be how strongly I feel that Apocalypse Now should have definitely won that year. It’s hard to compare the two movies because Kramer is so intimate and Apocalypse so huge in scale, but that is a significant part of it. What was necessary to make each of these movies successful is such a big difference that it would be hard not to give AN more respect. Another factor that wasn’t relevant at the time is the longevity of these films in cinema and pop culture. AN is still a very discussed film while KvsK, while respected receives barely any notice anymore.
Overall, this is certainly a lovely film, one that even brought me to tears a few times (not that it’s that hard), but it fails to stand out as a fantastic Best Picture. Watch this for the performances but it might not impress overall.
Other Academy Award nominations and wins:
Best Director – Robert Benton
Best Actor – Dustin Hoffman
Best Supporting Actress – Meryl Streep
Best Adapted Screenplay – Robert Benton
Best Supporting Actor – Justin Henry
Best Supporting Actress – Jane Alexander
Best Sound Mixing
The Other Guys:
- All That Jazz – Musical about a wildly successful Broadway director who’s life is falling apart – Won Best Art Direction, Costume Design, Editing, Original Song Score & nominated in 4 other categories
- Apocalypse Now – During the Vietnam war, a captain is assigned to recover a renegade Colonel – Won Best Cinematography, Sound & nominated in 5 other categories
- Breaking Away – Comedic drama about a recent high school graduate attempting to become a professional cyclist – Won Best Original Screenplay & nominated in 3 other categories
- Norma Rae - Drama based on a true story about a young factory worker who fights for better conditions in the work place – Won Best Lead Actress (Sally Field), Original Song & nominated in 1 other category