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Kramer vs Kramer

Year: 1979
Studio: Columbia
Director: Robert Benton
Writer: Robert Benton
Cast: Dustin Hoffman, Dustin Hoffman, Meryl Streep, JoBeth Williams

In the late 70s, divorce rates in the western world were just starting to spiral out of control when some Hollywood suit realised that a movie about that very social phenomenon might be a goldmine.

He was right. One of the seminal dramas of the 1970s, it tells the story almost completely from Ted's (Hoffman) point of view. Coming home late (again) from a busy day in advertising, he finds his wife Joanna (an impossibly young-looking Streep) with her bags packed intending to leave him. Out of the blue for Ted, a long time coming for Joanna, she leaves Ted and their young son Billy to move west.

Thrown into chaos, Ted finds himself with seemingly more than he can handle working full time and bringing up Billy single-handedly while Joanna has disappeared from the picture. But by turns both touching and heart wrenching, he gradually connects with his son in a way he never has, and the two settle into the routine of a normal family whilst gradually becoming one without the presence of Joanna.

Then (much later than you think it will; the full first half of the film is about Ted and Billy and their changed circumstances) Joanna returns from the opposite coast, saying that after many months of growth she wants Billy back in her life.

Deeply hurt that she's try and waltz back in, take Billy away and undo everything Ted's worked for with his son, he takes her to court, and the rest of the film deals with his trials and tribulations in fighting Joanna.

As Joanna, Streep is never portrayed as the evil villain (even though we see the story from Ted's side and therefore sympathise with him), and it makes you wonder if Hollywood's even capable of such a character statement today.

The ending could be seen as something of a cop-out; more likely it was a compromise between the studio who wanted a happy ending and the writer who realised that it had to end somewhere.

Hoffman and the kid both do a great job being natural, and although the look (in everything from the sets to the costumes) is dated nowadays, Kramer vs Kramer has something to say and says it well.

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