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Kramer vs Kramer: The movie that made Meryl Streep a star #SaturdayMatinee

Poster BEFORE Meryl was a star!

Kramer vs Kramer, based on the novel by Avery Corman, opened to critical acclaim 36 years ago, this month. Like many of this year’s Oscar hopefuls, the film opened late in the year qualifying for the Academy Awards handed out just a few months later. 

The movie received nine nominations and swept the award show in 5 key categories winning Best Picture, Best Actor for Dustin Hoffman, Best Actress in a Supporting Role for Meryl Streep—her first win—with director Robert Benton taking home two awards, one for directing and one for writing the screenplay based on Corman’s novel. 

And in the categories it didn’t win?

At the age of 8, Justin Henry, the little boy with no acting experience was nominated for playing Billy, the Kramer’s son and subject of the film’s custody suit. Instead of memorizing scripted lines, Dustin Hoffman and Justin improvised their scenes, and in a break from the norm, the movie was shot in order so he could better feel the weight of the events. Henry remains the youngest nominee in any competitive category.

According to Michael Schulman's Vanity Fair article, —a must read piece full of golden nuggets—adapted by Schulman from his book Her Again: Becoming Meryl Streep, Justin was inconsolable when he lost to Melvyn Douglas for Being There. 

Among the other ‘losers’: Jane Alexander for Best Supporting Actress, cinematography and editing. The whole notion of winners and losers, at this level of filmmaking is simply absurd, and it’s a notion that Hoffman has always rejected.

While the movie also did well at the box office, Kramer vs Kramer was not without its’ cultural critics. 
It was a movie people wept over and argued over, a well-made tearjerker about a father and son. Anyone who was or ever had a loving parent could relate to that story. But there was a trickier story lurking within—the shadow narrative of Joanna Kramer. In celebrating the bond between Ted and Billy, had the movie sold out not only her but the feminist movement? Some people seemed to think so. The Washington Post’s Gary Arnold found it “difficult to escape the conclusion that Dear Mrs. Kramer is a dim-witted victim of some of the sorriest cultural cant lately in vogue.’’
At the awards ceremony, back in the press pen, reporters were bombarding Dustin Hoffman with cameras and questions. Columnist Rona Barrett noted “that many women, particularly feminists, “feel this picture was a slap to them.”
According to Schulman, ‘‘Meryl bounded onto the platform. “Here comes a feminist,” she said. “I don’t feel that’s true at all.” Having commandeered the stage, she continued—

 “I feel that the basis of feminism is something that has to do with liberating men and women from prescribed roles.”

That strength and forthrightness combined with tremendous empathy—the ability to put herself completely in the skin of another is, I believe the difference that separates good actors from great ones—is why Meryl is a star. 

Watch Kramer vs. Kramer again on Amazon, iTunes, YouTube, Vudu, GooglePlay and on television on the Encore channel on December 24th.

Nominated an astounding 19 times, Streep won her second Oscar for Sophie's Choice, her third for The Iron Lady. What's your favorite Meryl Streep movie?