"Kramer Vs. Kramer," based on a novel by Avery Corman and directed by Robert Benton ("Bonnie and Clyde," "Superman"), is a poignant drama about the toll of divorce on children and family. Released in 1979, the movie stars Dustin Hoffman as a divorced father who is struggling to take care of and win custody of his young son Billy (Justin Henry) from his estranged wife, played by Meryl Streep. The film took home five Oscars.
"Kramer vs. Kramer" begins with Ted Kramer (Dustin Hoffman) juggling the job of father with his own career as a quickly rising advertising honcho. Joanna (Meryl Streep) is a stay-at-home mother who is busy looking after their young son, Billy. With problems at home and career dreams of her own, Joanna decides to leave Ted. After a night out with his boss, Ted returns home to find Joanna packing, and she declares that she is not taking Billy with her.
Ted Kramer must learn to take care of Billy. But their relationship quickly turns bitter as his young son resents him for the separation, and Ted cannot succeed at work with his new responsibilities at home, such as housekeeping and keeping Billy out of trouble. Billy begins to vehemently disobey his father to get attention. In one explosive scene, an overwrought Ted tells Billy that he cannot have dessert, but Billy does so anyway.
Ted and Billy are still struggling, and Ted seeks solace from his neighbor and his wife's old friend, Margaret (Jane Alexander). The two become quick friends, and in a pivotal scene they sit on a park bench, watching Billy on the monkey bars at a nearby playground. When Billy becomes badly injured, Ted must run with him to an emergency room, where he finally realizes how much he loves and needs his young child. He quits his job and finds one with better hours so he can spend more time raising Billy.
Spoiler: In Court
After 15 months away, Joanna returns home and files for custody of Billy. A legal battle ensues, which becomes a bloodbath in court as both lawyers dredge up the worst on each parent. In a charged scene, Joanna's lawyer blames Ted on the playground injury. Despite Joanna's absence and Ted's new bond with his son, the court awards custody of Billy to his mother. Billy and Ted have what they think will be their final father-and-son breakfast. But upon seeing how close they have become, Joanna agrees to let Ted have full custody, leaving the two of them for a new life.