Thursday, April 01, 2010

Kramer vs. Kramer

On the recommendation of a Spearhead post, I watched Kramer vs. Kramer on Netflix Instant Play.

Random Thoughts:

  • Hoffman was 42 years old in 1979. Streep was 30. I wonder how many first marriages really involve 12 year age differences, but let's do the math: At the time of the trial, Kramer says he's been in advertising "since college, maybe ten or 15 years". Let's say 15. That puts his movie age at around 37. He'd been married for eight years at the time of the divorce, plus 18 months since, so let's say 9 years, which makes him 28 at the time of his marriage, at which point, Mrs. Kramer would have been . . . 16? But, of course, in the movie she was closer 24. Hollywood sucks at arithmetic.

  • Either Dustin Hoffman overacts through the first 20 minutes of the film, or I am really, really glad my father was never a New York Jew.

  • Kramer invites an attractive divorced woman, who lives in the same New York apartment building, upstairs for a heart-to-heart talk the night his wife leaves him. They continue a platonic relationship throughout the movie. Really? What kind of 42 year old married man has these kinds of female friends? I don't. I'm friends, if you can call it that, with the wives of my male friends, but of these, I can think of only one that I might have this kind of conversation with, and then only if it started incidentally.

  • Speaking of New York apartments: Kramer, an advertising executive, lives in an itty-bitty, kinda dingy two-bedroom apartment, and eats Salisbury steak for dinner. This is probably realistic, but why does Hollywood blanch at that level of realism today? Compare it to the spacious accommodations that the Friends characters somehow afforded on waitressing salaries.

  • Nude scene. You know, I've been meaning to remark for a while now that, frankly, mainstream Hollywood had no idea how to competently execute a nude scene before the mid eighties. Consider, for instance, the movie Body Heat (1981). As I understand cinematic history, Kathleen Turner, for better or worse, blazed the trail as a mainstream American actress doing full-frontal. (Caligula, by contrast, employed exclusively Italian actresses for this purpose.) But even though Turner was an attractive woman at 27, that scene would never survive the cutting room by the standards of today. Likewise here, Jo Beth Williams (I think) was also looked very pretty with her clothes on in 1979, but her (brief) nude scene conjures nothing but embarrassment for her; she would never be cast that way today.

    Are the standards of beauty higher for actresses now than they were? Does Hollywood put a higher premium on a woman's body than her face? Have filmmakers become more skilled at displaying a nude woman in a flattering light? The only thing obvious I can point to is: tan lines. Jo Beth Williams had some pretty obvious tan lines that are distracting an unattractive (and, while I'm at it, fairly implausible on a Manhattan career woman in the middle of winter). You never see those on actresses nowadays, fortunately.

  • Kramer's son greets Daddy's naked sleepover with nonchalance. Wouldn't a little boy be intimidated by a strange naked woman? I'm pretty sure that by age six, I was embarrassed to catch sight of my mother's nakedness.

  • Interesting the difficulty that a divorced man has: most of the women Kramer knows are other career women whos maternal instincts are firmly suppressed. Where would he get the opportunity to meet Mom-type women if he doesn't go to church?

  • What a shame that Kramer's big self-revelation was that the divorce was his fault.

  • Kramer's son falls and gets stitches. I had stitches in my head as a kid. It was earlier than '79, but the doctor had a special board to strap me still while he worked. It prevented the thrashing around we see in this movie.

  • The platonic divorcee says of her ex-husband, "If he really loved me, he wouldn't have let me divorce him." But what choice did she give him?

  • Kramer is fired for taking too much time off from work. He performs his steely-eyed negotiations for his next job pretty well, but without explaining to them the stakes (he can't arrive in divorce court without a job), I can't see how his prospective employers wouldn't perceive his ultimatum as desperate. It would be wildly unlikely that they would hire him.

  • Kramer shows his son his new office. My Dad had a downtown office with a view like that. I didn't have the sense to be impressed with it at the time. It wasn't in New York though.

  • The uplifting music when Billy finally sees his mom was a bit jarring; did they forget who the protagonist is? Realistically, though, I'm pretty sure that one of the consequences of divorce is that the children tend to glorify the non-custodial parent.

  • The custody battle will cost Kramer $15,000, six months worth of his gross salary. Do divorce cases really go to the Supreme Court of NY?

  • Maybe Streep's psychobabbly narcissistic testimony had more resonance with audiences in '79.

  • I was surprised -- to the point of thinking it implausible -- at the extend of the grilling to which Mrs. Kramer is subjected.

  • Hoffman sounds like Woody Allen during his testimony.

  • It's really touching -- and naive -- the way the platonic divorcee pleads with Mrs. Kramer that, really, Kramer is a good father. She obviously doesn't understand the psychology of what's going on.

  • So, Mrs. Kramer actually granted her husband legal custody in the divorce decree, then shows up 18 months later, and not only wins custody but also gets child support even though she now makes more money than he does? That's the family court we all know and love!


Anonymous said...

Oh, another Jew v Jew story.

Break out of the Jew World!

Anonymous said...

The "Supreme" Court in New York State is an ordinary trial court, the highest appeals court is called the Court of Appeals.

As for the nude scene, from what I recall (it's been many years) it was played more for laughs than for eroticism. Using an actress with a less-than-perfect body actually is more appropriate under those circumstances. Also, the little boy was barely awake at the time, so that would account for his lack of reaction.


Anonymous said...

The platonic divorcee says of her ex-husband, "If he really loved me, he wouldn't have let me divorce him."

My wife pulled that shit on me, too. My reaction stunned her back to reality.