In this day and age, divorce and single parenting are more common than ever, but no one will say that either are easy. In Kramer vs. Kramer, Ted (Dustin Hoffman) is a hardworking husband and father, whose wife, Joanna (Meryl Streep) is so depressed and unsatisfied with herself that she decides to leave her husband and son. She has clearly thought about this for a while and planned everything out, even making sure to give Ted a dry-cleaning ticket. Now Ted has to figure out how to juggle his job and taking care of his son, Billy (Justin Henry) without any help.
The morning after Joanna leaves, Ted tries his hardest to act like nothing is wrong for Billy’s sake. Attempting to be a cheerful super-dad, Ted tries to make French toast for breakfast with Billy watching. The stress is starting to weigh heavier on Ted, and we wonder if he has ever done this before as Billy notices shells going into the eggs and realizes they’ve forgotten the milk. The whole thing is a frazzled mess, ending with Ted burning his hand and cursing enough to upset his son. So much for a good start.
At work, Ted’s boss doesn’t seem to care that his wife just left him. He shrugs it off, reassuring Ted that she will be back, but just in case, he adds that Ted should think about sending Billy to live with some relatives. It is clear that in that job, Ted is discouraged to let his family come first, and he may end up paying for that later.
As the months wear on with no Joanna, Ted and Billy bond more. We’re shown moments with Ted nervous for his son in a classroom play and teaching Billy to ride his bike without training wheels. These small scenes score big father-son points and soon the two seem to thrive with just each other. Though at times it seems they have settled into a bachelor lifestyle; one of my favorite details of the film is when they’re eating TV dinners.
One of the most moving scenes is when Ted runs nonstop for what seems like miles carrying Billy to the hospital. He has just taken a fall off the jungle gym, like most kids will inevitably do, and suffered a nasty cut on his face. The way Ted runs with such urgency, barely looking for traffic, cradling his son but not letting his weight slow him down is an amazing portrait of a father’s love.
The issue the film brings up about single parenting was not new, but by having the mother leave, rather than the father, made this film more eye-opening at the time. It broke boundaries and made people question the thinking that mothers are just naturally nurturing and fathers couldn’t possibly handle all the aspects of parenting on their own. When Joanna and Ted fight for custody of their son, the film does not give us a clear-cut winner. Instead, in the courtroom, we are shown each side of the case without a bias. From the way we’ve seen Ted and Billy grow together, we have our own opinion. But by only hearing the case, the verdict could be different, especially with the concept that mother’s naturally make better parents.
There are so many reasons to see Kramer vs. Kramer. The acting is heartfelt and phenomenal, it had four acting nominations and took away two for Streep and Hoffman. The stirring story of rising to the occasion of single-parenthood is moving and can capture the heart of anyone, whether or not you life has been affected by divorce in any way.
“How much courage does it take to walk out on your kid?”