KRAMER VS. KRAMER -- Aspen Hill, Laurel Cinema, Loehmann's Plaza, New Carrollton, Roth's Seven Locks, Roth's Tysons Corner, Springfield Cinema, Tenley Circle and West End Circle.
The child-custody case in "Kramer vs. Kramer" is a loaded one. Emotionally, it's so heavily loaded in favor of Kramer pere as to make you weep, and legally it's so loaded in favor of Kramer mere as to make you rage.
Those of us on the jury must, however, step back and try to figure out who is at fault. Is it that disreputable force, the legal system? (Crimes committed by this institution in " . . . And Justice for All" and "The Onion Field" are inadmissible.) Is it the New Woman, with her search for fulfillment? (Surely her recent, unsympathetic antics in "Starting Over," so unlike the heart-rending affliction of a man with similiar symptons in "10," suggest her bad character. Nice women, "Karamer" makes it clear, don't desert but are deserted, and remain loving and forgiving to those wonderful husband who need time off to find themselves.)
Or is it the writer-director, Robert Benton, for taking a problem of Solomonic proportions and weighting it for easy solution? This screenplay "deals with" the agony of contested custody in the way that "An Unmarried Woman," whose herione was young, attractive, well-salaried and pursued by eligible men, "dealt with" the anguish of being deserted.
Two people who cannot be faulted for this defect are Kramer and Kramer. Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep, as the embattled parents, do everything possible, within the limits of the script, to make appealing and effective cases for both sides, and these sensitive and wryly tender-hearted performances compensate for whatever faults the movie may have. In this, they are well supported by Jane Alexander as a neighbor and Justin Henry as the contested Kramer child.
Hoffman, as a self-preoccupied husband who learns good parenthood after his wife leaves him, is so fine as to suggest that men are being written off by their wives as insensitive for the merest superficial and conventional attitudes. Streep portrays the mother with such ruffled sweetness as to suggest that pigeonholing her with such buzzword statements as "In California, I really found myself" isn't igiving us a true picture.
One tender scene after another illustrates the beauty of the parent-child bond in a way that manages to produce the weeps without sacrificing a kind of brittle realism.
But a film that dealt with the problem of dividing the custordy of a child between two equally fit and adoring parents would have produced tears worth shedding.