Quite a portrait of modern family dysfunction, Robert Benton's adaptation of the Avery Corman novel hit a nerve with audiences for its frank take on a condition affecting them in increasing numbers: divorce. Nonetheless, it's an uneven film, not in terms of quality, but balance; the film truly belongs to Dustin Hoffman's Ted Kramer, whose travails take center stage as Meryl Streep's Joanna Kramer disappears for large portions of the film. Only a few instances of Ted's short temper fuel any sort of backlash against an otherwise endearing paternal figure, while the audience is given far less cause to sympathize with Joanna, whose reasons for leaving Ted (and more importantly, son Billy) are never explored. It's the strange transfigurations of Ted's life that make Kramer vs. Kramer such an interesting study, such as when a court-ordered deadline forces him into the office of an executive, in the waning hours before the Christmas holiday, to practically beg for a job for which he is overqualified. While there's no reason Ted's story alone should not be the focus, the film's title suggests a war waged with equal ammunition by two wronged parties, and Kramer vs. Kramer is not such a film. The dismissal of Streep's character makes the overly pat ending less forgivable as well. But the actors' note-perfect performances -- and the way the script lays bare the desperate machinations of an increasingly common and normalized legal process -- make this an enduring work.
by Derek Armstrong review