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Dhaka Tribune

Netflix Recommendations: 'Kramer vs Kramer'

Here is why you need to watch the 1979 iconic American legal drama film 'Kramer vs Kramer' --

Update : 16 May 2022, 03:36 PM

The year 1979 witnessed the release of Steven Spielberg’s "1941," Disney’s "The Black Hole" and "Star Trek: The Motion Picture." Yet a small court-room drama took Hollywood by storm and became the highest grossing film of the year, earning its two leads Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep their first Oscars.

“Kramer vs. Kramer,” a film about a divorcing couple embroiled in a painful custody battle, sparked a national conversation on divorce, motherhood, women’s right to join the workforce, the gendered division of household labour and parental roles in America.  The impact was immediate as throughout the ‘80s, Hollywood went on to produce similar divorce dramas like “Ordinary People,” “Irreconcilable Differences,” “The War of the Roses” and others. The 2019 Netflix film “Marriage Story’ is one of the many examples of the enduring influence of the 1979 landmark film.

“A housewife (Meryl Streep) abruptly leaves her career-driven husband (Dustin Hoffman) and their 6-year-old son (Justin Henry) in a quest to find herself, only to return 15 months later to sue her now ex-husband for custody of the child,” reads the official synopsis of “Kramer vs. Kramer.”

Streep’s character gave voice to many American women who were dissatisfied with the suburban domesticity. “All my life,” she tells her husband, played by Hoffman, “I’ve felt like … somebody’s wife or mother or daughter. Even when we were together, I never knew who I was.”  And Hoffman’s character voiced the anger and confusion of his generation, men who had to be more than household earners and thus navigate new uncharted territories.

Jim McKairnes wrote on the film’s 40th anniversary, “Men were becoming thinkers and feelers, not just doers. Fragile and emotional. Especially onscreen: Overachiever Ted Kramer (Dustin Hoffman) is seen unmoored by the simple task of making French toast for his son. His single-father fear and sadness are on wide-screen display.”

The behind-the-scenes stories about the two leads have also become famous over time. The power asymmetry between Hoffman and Streep led to a highly toxic work environment for a relatively newcomer Streep, who was also dealing with the death of her partner, filmmaker John Cazale, and the frequent personal attacks from method actor Hoffman.

Michael Schulman recalls in the book ‘Her Again: Becoming Meryl Streep’ -- “On the second day, they continued shooting the opening scene. They shot the bulk of it in the morning and, after lunch, set up for some reaction shots. Dustin and Meryl took their positions on the other side of the apartment door. Then something happened that shocked not just Meryl but everyone on set. Right before their entrance, Dustin slapped her hard across the cheek, leaving a red mark."

In 2012, Dustin Hoffman expressed regret for his conduct on the sets, saying “I was getting divorced, I was partying with drugs and it depleted me in every way.”

“Kramer vs. Kramer” grabbed nine Academy Award nominations in ‘79, and won best picture, director, screenplay, and best actor in both categories for Hoffman and Streep. It is now available for streaming on Netflix.

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