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Kramer vs. Kramer: Family plot

RAMNATH N PAI RAIKAR | NT NETWORK

 

Considered as one of the very important films produced during the 1970s, ‘Kramer vs. Kramer’ (1979) reflected a cultural shift, which occurred during this decade, when ideas about motherhood and fatherhood were changing. The film was widely praised for the way in which it gave equal weight and importance to the points of view of both parents: Ted Kramer and Joanna Kramer.

Based on the 1977 novel, ‘Kramer vs. Kramer’ by Avery Corman, the film had its screenplay written by Robert Benton, who had earlier written films such as ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ (1967). In fact, Corman had written the novel during a time when there was a more traditional view of child custody cases.

The noted French director, François Truffaut was asked to direct the film, with his regular cinematographer, Néstor Almendros hired in anticipation. However, Truffaut was busy with other projects, and expressed his inability to do the movie, in turn recommending the film’s screenwriter to direct. Finally, Benton was signed to direct the film.

From the time producer Stanley R Jaffe and Benton first read the original novel, the only actor envisioned in the lead was Dustin Hoffman. However, actors namely Al Pacino, Jon Voight, James Caan and George Hamilton were also considered for the role of Ted, and all turned it down. -Hoffman, having just lived through divorce himself, contributed many personal moments and dialogue to the film, and was offered shared screenplay credit by Benton. The actor however refused to be acknowledged.

Kate Jackson was originally offered the role of Joanna played by Meryl Streep, but was forced to turn it down. This was because at the time, Jackson was appearing in the television series ‘Charlie’s Angels’, and producer Aaron Spelling told her that they were unable to rearrange the shooting schedule to give her time off to do the film. Later, Jane Fonda and Goldie Hawn were considered for the role but they too rejected it. Susan Sarandon and Diane Keaton were also up for the role of Joanna. All this while, Streep was cast as Phyllis, the role which eventually went to actress, JoBeth Williams once Streep was promoted as Joanna.

Streep wrote her own courtroom speech on Benton’s suggestion, after she told him she wasn’t satisfied with the way it was originally written. This was done despite some objection from Hoffman, who “hated her guts”. Incidentally, during the making of the film, the actress was still recovering from the death of her lover, John Cazale.

The music played during the opening credits of the film is Antonio Vivaldi’s Mandolin Concerto. Once completed, the first cut of the film ran 43 minutes longer than the eventual film.

When released a week before Christmas in 1979, the film received positive reviews from critics. It didn’t just set box office records for family drama, but also changed the way people thought about divorce, family and child custody. Made with a budget of $8 million, the film collected $106.3 million worldwide. It is interesting to observe that ‘Kramer vs. Kramer’ stood firmly against onslaught of films like ‘Moonraker’, ‘Apocalypse Now’, ‘10’, and ‘Star Trek: The Motion Picture’, all released earlier in 1979.

‘Kramer vs. Kramer’ was nominated for nine Academy Awards, eventually winning five in the Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress and Best Adapted Screenplay category. Hoffman and Streep picked up their maiden Oscars in this film.

In 2013, it was remade with the title, ‘Instructions not Included’ as a Mexican comedy-drama, with an unexpected ending.

 

TRIVIA

Child actor, Justin Henry, who was nominated under the Best Supporting Actor category for the Academy Award, was at the age of 8 years, 10 months and 20 days, the youngest nominee for any competitive honour in the history of Academy Awards. He holds the record till date.

Meryl Streep was pregnant during the filming of ‘Kramer vs. Kramer’. She delivered the baby – Henry – from sculptor, Don Gummer, in November 1979, a month before ‘Kramer vs Kramer’ was released. In fact, Streep was heavily pregnant in the final scene, hence the reason why Joanna is wearing a raincoat.

Director, Robert Benton later worked with Dustin Hoffman, in ‘Billy Bathgate’ (1991), as well as with Meryl Streep, in ‘Still of the Night’ (1982).

‘Akele Hum Akele Tum’, a 1995 film directed by Mansoor Khan and starring Aamir Khan, Manisha Koirala and Master Adil was highly inspired from ‘Kramer vs. Kramer’.

 

Plot

Returning home late from work one night, a career-obsessed Ted Kramer (Dustin Hoffman) is told by his wife, Joanna (Meryl Streep) that she is leaving him. After a lifetime of being “somebody’s wife,” she’s going off to find herself, leaving Ted to raise their six-year-old son Billy (Justin Henry) by himself. Ted, while trying to hold down his job, gets to really know his son as few fathers do. Fifteen months after she walked out, Joanna returns to claim Billy, and a custody battle ensues, resulting in brutal character assassinations of both parents. Finally, court awards custody of Billy to Joanna. On the morning that Billy is to leave Ted, Joanna tells Ted that Billy’s true home is with Ted, and therefore will not take custody of him. Joanna then wipes tears from her face and asks Ted, “How do I look?” Ted replies, “You look terrific.”

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