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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Rain Man (1988)

 

Long before the vaccine controversy, I remember learning about autism in a high school biology class.  At some point, after reading about the symptoms a person with autism might exhibit, my friend announced, half-joking, half-panicked, “I think I’m autistic!”  What she actually was could probably be better described as sensitive, socially awkward, and occasionally flaky, not so much autistic.  Or maybe I just misheard her, and she said she was artistic, which was certainly true.

In a way, the autistic character is nothing more than a foil for Tom Cruise, an obstacle for him to overcome in his quest to ascend beyond his own dickishness.  Literally the first note I wrote while watching this movie, within five minutes of the opening, was “the redemption of the asshole.”  It’s a common enough trope (seemingly popular in the 80s, because I would categorize Driving Miss Daisy the same), and I was convinced that I would hate the film as a result.  Charlie Babbitt explains his great rift with his father as originating in teenage antics where he stole his dad’s fancy classic car for a joyride to celebrate getting “almost all A’s.”  He deserved the car!  Then how dare his father call the police to punish him!  And they say millennials are entitled.

But I think Dustin Hoffman’s endearing Raymond Babbitt saves it.  He has this ability to stand out even as he plays a character with so passive a role as the uncommunicative, institutionalized older brother.  When they show up at a casino, lights flashing, bells clanging, I felt overwhelmed.

I loved how it was totally no problem for Charlie to run off with his brother and essentially hold him ransom with literally no consequences.  Even if he was acting out in his grief (or bitchiness at losing out on his estranged old man’s fortune), Raymond must have had someone in charge of his guardianship and thus, someone to press kidnapping charges.  My irritation at this plot point is made stranger by my further complaint that everything seems to be resolved smoothly at the very end, with Raymond hopping on a train to go back to Ohio (apparently he hadn’t learned the statistics for train safety).  I read that the ending was a change from the original script – and while it’s a more reasonable solution than Raymond spending the rest of his life hanging out in his brother’s LA apartment, it also left me feeling that their fraternal road trip was a little pointless.

I would also like to point out how weird the scene was with the girlfriend kissing Raymond in the elevator.  What was up with that?  Okay, sure, you can debate whether Ray was himself interested in pursuing a date with the sparkly woman in the hotel, but then why in God’s name would anyone take that as a sign to make out with her boyfriend’s brother in an elevator?  Yeesh.

There’s a line from a book that’s stuck with me – though I can’t remember exactly how it goes, and I thought it was from The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime but can’t find it, so maybe it hasn’t stuck with me as much as I thought.  It had to do with overstimulation, and what it’s like to have so much sensory input all at once.  Maybe it went something like:  People always question how I can stare at the same things all the time without getting bored, but there’s so much to see right around us that nobody notices.  Who needs to watch 88 movies when you can just watch one over and over again?

 

Theme:  Dustin Hoffman

First Time Watching?  Yes

Final Verdict:  Definitely a movie.

Midnight Cowboy (1969)

I love the song “Riptide” by Vance Joy, but, not having seen the movie, didn’t realize that the lyrics in the middle referred to Midnight Cowboy:  “There’s this movie that I think you’ll like/This guy decides to quit his job and heads to New York City/This cowboy’s searching for himself.”

It works as an introduction to the film, or at least the first ten minutes or so.  Once the cowboy makes it to New York, more things happen.  He tries to make it as a gigolo; fails.  He meets Ratso Rizzo; they don’t get off to a great start.  Out of desperation, the cowboy eventually moves into Rizzo’s shitty apartment in an abandoned building, which would still probably be out of my price range.  They enjoy some totally-not-gay times together, stealing coconuts and dancing in an unheated kitchen to keep warm.  Then one of them dies.

This film holds the distinction of being the only Best Picture winner to have been rated X, though it was later downgraded to R.  I sort of wonder what qualifies a movie for an X rating – I’ve certainly seen more scandalous stuff in your typical R-rated movie of the current era.  Hell, I’ve seen worse on premium cable TV these days.  I suppose it’s the hints of gay sex acts that were considered too hot for theaters.  It’s certainly not because there are any actual penises shown in the making of this film.

So, my theme this week is Dustin Hoffman.  I can honestly say that, despite his long and prestigious filmography, I don’t think I’ve seen a single movie of his.  Maybe I’m wrong.  In fact, in looking at his IMDB listing, I can confirm that I have seen a few films on which he holds a credit.  Just not the big ones, the classic films that everybody’s seen (hence my little blog project).

I know about Dustin Hoffman, mostly through parodies of his famous roles.  Forrest Gump features a throwback to the “I’m walkin’ here” scene.  There’s the dog character who talks like his Rain Man character on Animaniacs (let’s not even go down the rabbit hole of references in children’s programs that kids couldn’t possibly get).  In the course of watching all of these films, I’ve been noticing the source material for a lot of jokes that I didn’t always fully understand.  There are probably far more that I don’t even remember (and honestly, it’s surprising enough that I have pretty solid recall of so many references that I didn’t get).

I’ve read that Dustin Hoffman took a big risk for this role as the scuzzy Ratso Rizzo, immediately following his clean-cut character in The Graduate (another classic film I’ve never seen – and still won’t for some time, since it didn’t win Best Picture that year).  Rizzo is an interesting character.  Initially, I was afraid that he was going to turn out to be the old standby character – the homophobe that is secretly gay himself – and he sort of is, though I think it’s handled more deftly than the typical I’ll-bet-you-never-saw-this-coming storyline.

Jon Voight’s character, the cowboy Joe Buck, is a bit harder to figure out.  We keep getting these bizarre, and usually distorted, flashbacks to his youth, starting with his childhood with an odd grandma.  Then there’s this scene that keeps popping up with a woman, and people chasing her down.  I don’t know what to make of it, or even which parts are real and which are some paranoia-fueled dream.  Nor can I figure out whether Cowboy Joe is meant to be gay himself – would a straight man prefer to sell sexual acts to other men rather than pick up a few dishwashing shifts?

I wish I could say the ending left me emotionally wrecked, but I would describe my reaction more appropriately as “confused.”  I liked the film well enough, but I couldn’t get a handle on where it was all headed, so it just felt a bit abrupt.  Like this blog –

 

Theme:  Dustin Hoffman

First Time Watching?  Yup

Final Verdict:  Sunshine and coconut milk