Some films you walk away from and, after giving yourself a period of time to digest them, you realize that it really ripened in your mind as a genuinely worthwhile film. Kramer vs. Kramer is one of these films, though I would argue that it’s not aptly named, since they’re not really at each other’s throats the whole time, and when they are (which isn’t ever as vicious as some of today’s court cases), it’s only during the third act of the film.
Dustin Hoffman is perfection as Ted Kramer, the typical guy who works his ass off trying to make a better living for his family, but who is then thrust into the probably undesired role of acting as both Mommy and Daddy to his son after wife Joanna (Meryl Streep) decides to leave him. Streep isn’t in the film all that much, save for the third act, but that’s fine, because we really need the film to show us how Ted copes with his new role as Mommy/Daddy, and the film show us this just perfectly.
We see Ted’s strength as a parent grow stronger as the movie progresses, starting with his first attempt at making breakfast for son Billy (Justin Henry) which goes horribly, heartbreakingly wrong, into the eventual loss of his job because taking care of his son is, in the end, more important - something that we, the audience, and Ted’s boss know long before it ever actually dawns on Ted.
Streep plays Joanna in a relatable way. You just can’t hate her. You can understand how she may truly believe that leaving her son is the best thing for him, and that perhaps with a little therapy (which she ultimately does seek out), she may realize what a mistake she has made in leaving her family and how she would be better off being Billy’s mom, flaws and all, than running away.
When it eventually comes down to the Court “battle,” Joanna isn’t vindictive or spiteful. She just wants to be back in Billy’s life, though it can be argued that going for full custody was probably a bit much - she should have gone for joint, at the very least. You don’t make your husband the primary caregiver for 18 months, then threaten to come back and rip apart the fragile threads of the relationship he has been building with his son.
One thing I must point out is: how stupid is that woman that Ted ends up bringing back to his home to walk out fully naked when she knows he has a young son? Dude, put a robe on or something, seriously!
This film ends on a more lighthearted note, a note that surely many a good father wishes his own court case would boil down to and a Hollywood ending for sure, though despite being a film about divorce and custody issues, this one allows you to walk away still feeling positive at the end, which is what makes Kramer vs. Kramer indeed one of the more special films out there.