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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this multiple award-winning film about the wrenching truths of divorce and its effects on both parents and kids has moments of great humor as well as heartbreak. Watching the relationship between a clueless dad (as he becomes a dedicated, loving father) and his young son (as he learns to deal with the pain of losing his mother) is suspenseful, very intense, and highly moving. Made in 1979, the filmmakers made a groundbreaking effort to treat a mother, who leaves her young son behind, with dignity and understanding. Following a bedroom scene showing two adults after a sexual encounter, a naked woman comes face to face with a little boy in the hallway (breasts clearly visible as she attempts to cover her genitals); the moment is played for comic effect and embarrassment rather than sexual provocativeness. In one tense, lengthy sequence, a child falls from a jungle gym, is rushed to an emergency hospital, and undergoes stitches on camera. There is occasional swearing ("goddammit"). Adult beverages are consumed in a number of social situations, and, once, the dad uses alcohol after a particularly difficult argument with his son. A few people smoke.
What's the story?
In 1979's KRAMER VS. KRAMER (winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture), Ted Kramer (Oscar-winner Dustin Hoffman) is thunderstruck when his wife, Joanna (Oscar-winner Meryl Streep) leaves him and their 6-year-old son without warning. Ted has been a single-minded advertising man, insensitive to his wife's growing depression and barely involved in raising Billy. Initially, thrown by circumstances into a new role, new priorities, and unexpectedly intense emotions, Ted agonizingly reaches deep inside himself for untapped sources of compassion and strength. Just as the Ted-Billy relationship reaches a comfortable, loving place (but not without issues that must be addressed), Joanna returns to New York City to regain custody of her little boy. Again, Ted is called upon to use his wits, his friendships, and his humanity to keep Billy in his life.
Is it any good?
This film is a stellar example of collaborative filmmaking. For starters, it boasts extraordinary performances from Hoffman and Streep (both of whom won their first Academy Awards for the film) and probably one of the finest child performances ever from Justin Henry. In the artful, sensitive hands of Robert Benton (winner of the Academy Award for Best Director) and with the clear commitment of the performers, this movie maintains a constant focus on truth-telling and the in-depth examination of separation at a time during which divorce was becoming a primary force in the American landscape. It's true that the people portrayed are decidedly middle and upper middle class, but the humanity and honesty are universal. Older kids and teens may be inspired to talk with their families about this sensitive subject matter, and kids and parents who've been through divorce will find much that is relatable.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can discuss how expectations of fathers have changed since this movie was made in 1979. How do current movies and television programs show the involvement of dads today? Give some examples.
Did your feelings about Joanna (the mom) change by the end of the story? What techniques did the filmmakers use, and how did Meryl Streep's performance help you understand her point of view?
Why was the courtroom sequence meaningful? Was it important for the audience to hear each person's side of the story? Was it important for the characters to hear each other's side of the story?
Ted, Joanna, and Billy Kramer had few financial issues to face. How might the movie have been different if the family had had money problems?
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