Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)

 

I swear I didn’t plan to watch a movie about divorce on Father’s Day.  GG, Bridget.  Granted, if there’s a movie that celebrates fatherhood more than this, I haven’t watched it yet.  It doesn’t remind me in any way of my own dad, but then again, my dad’s not Dustin Hoffman, either.

So, I ran into a bit of difficulty with my theme when I reached the seventies.  Fully half of the movies that won Oscars in this decade reference a dude right in the title, so that rules them out.  I suppose I could have managed Annie Hall if I hadn’t already written it up – though, in fairness, that film is less about a woman than about Woody Allen occasionally pausing in his whining long enough for a woman to wander by.  What’s left, then, but Kramer vs. Kramer?  Surely, I thought, in a movie featuring two parents, the lady Kramer would factor in about 50% of the time, right?  Right?

You’d think I’d have learned something, lo these six months.  This is not a movie for the moms out there.  In the first half hour alone, I found myself wondering just how many times I’d have to listen to the sound of boys taking a piss.  Rather than a movie about how difficult it is to be a parent (mother or father), this really comes off to me more as a film about a not-great-dad realizing how hard parenting is when he actually has to do it.  Do I sound bitter?  Maybe I’m a little bitter.

The truth is, nobody would have cared about this movie if the roles were reversed:  dad walks out and leaves mom to do the hard work of bringing up a child on her own.  Because we’ve all heard that story, maybe even lived it.  Even today, thirty-some years after the movie came out, in an atmosphere where work/life balance is acknowledged as important, women face the same threat to their priorities.  Your career sees a setback because you had to stay home with a sick kid?  Ah, too bad, you just didn’t want it enough.

Meanwhile, Mr. Kramer needs a job and manages to bully his way into a new one in the middle of a Christmas party, just because he wouldn’t leave until he got what he wanted.  Would a woman come out of that the same way, or would she end up getting kicked out on her ass?  I think we all know the answer to that.  The same is true in how each parent is approached in the courtroom during a custody dispute: (the former) Mrs. Kramer is grilled about her sexual history and mental health, her fitness questioned at every turn.  Nobody asks Mr. Kramer about the last time he had sex.

Maybe, in the end, this is just the right movie to watch – both on Father’s Day and during a month of movies meant to consider what it’s like to be a woman on film.  Whether it means to or not, it is a film representative of the female experience.  No matter how hard you fight, in the end, you’ll still end up doubting your own worth and giving in.

 

Theme:  Ladies on film

Bechdel Test:  Complete failure

First Time Watching?  Yes

Final Verdict:  No double-chocolate chip ice cream

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