[box cover]

Kramer vs. Kramer

Meryl Streep likes to say "Muh boy." Not "My boy," but "Muh boy." If you pay too much attention to this peculiarity of speech, it can drive you mad. And if you are mad already, you may have noticed that she uses this locution in A Cry in the Dark and Before and After. But her first exercise in this oddly white-trash pronunciation was Kramer vs. Kramer, the Oscar-winning film from 1979 set among the upwardly mobile of Manhattan. It's odd because the milky-white Streep, with her long blonde hair and Roman nose, is the ultimate shiksa, a porcelain doll that a man shows off to impress his scruffy friends. For trailer-park cadences to come out of her mouth is disconcerting, especially for a Smith-educated character like her Joanne Kramer, who designed magazines for a living before marrying Ted Kramer (Dustin Hoffman), a move that precipitated a quasi-nervous breakdown that drives her to a mid-life crisis so severe she abandons her son to his father and flees to California, the Mecca for people looking for themselves. Kramer vs. Kramer is the kind of movie to which the words "intelligent," "moving," and "beautifully crafted" cling like boogers to fingers. And under the direction of Robert Benton, with photography by the late Nestor Almendros, it is classic cinema — clean, neat, burnished to a golden brown. If there isn't a lot of air in there, well, that's no fault of the filmmakers, who obviously worked hard at creating a realistic tale of contemporary life (and were rewarded with five Oscars: picture, actor, supporting actress for Streep, direction, and adapted screenplay). It's like a Woody Allen film but without the jokes — Manhattan life never looked so appealing despite the misery of the characters. The drama, of course, is that just when Ted and his son (Justin Henry) reach a hard-won détente, Joanne returns and wants back "muh boy," leading to a painful custody case. Just like Streep's vocal affliction, the lawyer whom Ted hires (Howard Duff) is somewhat out of place — a crusty, hard-drinking, cane-wielding guy out of a Sidney Lumet film. But then, all lawyers are required to have canes, ever since Robert Taylor in Nicholas Ray's Party Girl (and even down to Walter Pidgeon in the obscure Warning Shot). Kramer vs. Kramer is one of those rare films that has about five or six great scenes that everyone remembers: the "French toast" scene, the "ice cream" scene, the "first bike ride" scene, the "run to the ER" scene, the "broken wine glass" scene. It's a tasteful drama that old people probably like, though it's hard to imagine how much teenage boys would get out of it. Another curious aspect of the film is how often Hoffman's career has seen him playing both male and female roles in a relationship (Tootsie, Midnight Cowboy). Columbia TriStar's Kramer vs. Kramer DVD comes with one important extra — a 48-minute documentary, original to the disc, entitled "Finding the Truth: The Making of Kramer vs. Kramer," a surprisingly frank account of the film's production. We learn that the picture was highly personal to Hoffman, who was going through a divorce (and didn't want to make the film), and we see what Justin Henry looks like all grown up (not as bad as most kid actors). The disc bears a beautiful, almost flawless anamorphic transfer of the 1.85:1 image, though it's a tad grainy at times. Audio is in Dolby Digital mono in English and French, with closed-captioning and subtitles in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, and Thai. Also here are the original theatrical trailer, three other "bonus" trailers, minimal cast and crew filmographies, and an insert with production details. Keep-case.
—D.K. Holm



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