S1: Hello and welcome to another episode of Flashback, Slate’s podcast on older and classic movies. This week, we’re going to be talking about Kramer vs. Kramer, the 1979 legal drama divorce drama that as we’ll get into was a massive, massive hit in its time and just swept the Academy Awards that year.
S2: We’re talking about it in part because of the Academy Awards and doing a little sort of mini Oscar JAG on this show in advance of the Oscars of 20-20-20 19 whenever you want to call them. That’s always confusing. And talking about the Oscars, right? Grace. From the prior year. And of course, because of marriage story, which in many ways, much more ways than I even suspected, going in before this rewatch echoes and I think consciously sites and put some twists on Kramer versus Kramer directed and written by Robert Benton. OK, so chuckling on the other Mike, it’s Ice-T Collins, film critic of Vanity Fair. Hello again. Hi. And yeah, this movie. OK. So there’s so many ways to approach it. I think that maybe more than a lot of the movies we’ve talked about. I want to spend some time setting this one up as a cultural object in its time and as the phenomenon that it was in the culture before we get in to the movie itself. Yeah. Right. Because some of that stuff struck me as really curious. I mean, I was a kid when this came out, probably didn’t see it in the movie theater and was only vaguely aware that it was a big deal, but it was really a big deal. In 1970, you remember it being like you remember in the air. When I saw the trailer, when I watched the vintage trailer, I had some memory of it. You know, being on TV and me being aware of this movie, I think that I was aware that there was a kid who was up for an Oscar because Justin Henry was at the time and I think maybe still the youngest person ever to be nominated for an Oscar Quvenzhané Wallis for a reason. The Southern Wild was younger when she made the movie, but the time it was released and she was nominated, I think because it sat on the shelf for a while or something. She was older than Justin Henry for so long, but she so looked like a baby at the Oscars. I know it’s true. I actually had to Google that. So I remember it setting that record. And when you’re a kid, you would notice something like that. It’s could be movie stars. But I definitely don’t think I saw the movie until I was a bit older. Anyway, the phenomena that it wasn’t, it’s time to try to enumerate some of the ways, just the hard numbers. For one thing, does, you know, was the top grossing movie of 1979.
S3: Yeah. Not until you told me. That’s crazy. That’s crazy.
S2: By far it beat the Amityville Horror, which was number two that year by over 2 million dollars. And if you scroll through, it’s on the numbers, which is a great site for, you know, learning about box office history. First of all, it was a very strong year for movies. There are a lot of movies that we now consider, you know, timeless classics that came out in 1979 in a way that we don’t consider Kramer versus Kramer. Right. I mean, as much as it might be sort of, you know, respected as an industry milestone of some kind. And among them are Apocalypse Now, which was number four at the box office. Alien, the Deer Hunter came out.
S4: Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait. Kramer vs. cameraman. More money than alien.
S2: Yeah. That’s nuts. I mean, quite a bit alien doesn’t appear on the list until No.6 and Kramer. Kramer had a much tinier budget than alien versus. Right. I mean, it was nearly a million budget I think or something at the time and it made 106 million something dollars. So it hit a huge cultural nerve in ways that we’ll have to talk about and try to feel our way back into generations later. But just other great movies that you’re being there came out that year. Well, Norma Rae came out that year. North Dallas Forty, which I consider a great movie that I would love to see again and actually talk about on this show came out that year. And then even just on the pop culture front, life of Brian. Oh, breaking away really from 1979. Really wonderful movie. Part of reading this, you know, was a little bit of nostalgia, like 1979 was a great year for those kind of movies that are so quickly disappearing from the landscape. Now, mid budget originals.
S4: Sure. And that kind of movie would not be the highest grossing movie of its year. I mean, the closest comparison really isn’t one. But in terms of size relative to our current blockbusters, I guess a movie like Get Out, like how much it costs versus how much it made and what a statement that was. The industry in terms of, you know, I mean, the thing is, you sink a lot of money into things like superhero movies, because internationally, you know that they’re going to carry their weight.
S5: Whereas a movie like Get Out or this, if it were me today, wouldn’t have that kind of guarantee. So you don’t spend that much money. But I still don’t think that, you know, marriage story were released in theaters. I don’t know. I mean, I do know it wouldn’t make it wouldn’t be the number one movie, but I also I don’t know how well or not.
S2: I think you realize how early in the blockbuster era that was. Yeah, sure. Ours had only been two years before 70. Yeah. So, you know, this idea of that was a slap burster had existed. Jaw’s had existed. Right. But that kind of movie had not become the defining force of what made the film industry function.
S4: You know, first of all says something just about what Hollywood thinks of film for adults is or whether adults are a distinct category of audience. Now, I mean, with superheroes, the idea is right. Everyone from kids to grown up school to see them. And Kramer versus Kramer is not that kind of film. And also, yeah, we should talk about the cultural conversation because as much conversation as I saw about marriage story, it was more about the acting than about the socially.
S6: Yeah. The divorce rate. You know, gender and all that stuff. Right.
S2: Which is, of course, also a huge difference in the way we think about divorce now versus then. And we’ll get to that. But a couple more hard facts about Kramer vs. Kramer that are fascinating is that it had this rare balance of being both the number one grossing movie at the box office and it basically swept the big categories at the Oscars. It won best picture, best director, best actor, best supporting actress for Streep and best adapted screenplay for Robert Benton, because it’s based on this novel by Avery Corbin that had also the seller. So it was sort of like a middlebrow juggernaut insofar as it came from a bestselling novel. There was a popular and already Oscar awarded writer director Robert Benton. Right. Dustin Hoffman was a big star at that point. Meryl Streep was not a big star or movie making career. Had just started a couple of years before. And she’d mainly played supporting roles. Right. If you notice in the opening credits, she comes after the title. You know, there’s one of the classic above the title moments where you see Dustin Hoffman in Kramer versus Kramer with Meryl Streep. Yeah. All right. So there was definitely not a sense that she was as big of a box office draw as he was at that, but certainly not. I’m even just looking at the other, you know, nominations, cinematography, Nestor Almendras, Rajinder cinematography, legendary shot Days of Heaven. I mean, enough said he could write it his career and been a great cinematographer right there. Yeah. But he was associated with Truffaut. I was gonna say that. Who was initially slated to direct this movie. And can you imagine how different. Kramer vs. Kramer would be if Francois Truffaut had directed it? I mean, I don’t know exactly how it’d be different.
S4: They would be different. And it’s like fascinating that think about this in terms of like Nasser a Mundus is a great name, but I also associate him accordingly, like with people like Malick or with people who are a little bit closer to a kind of new Hollywood era or vibed as people doing something a little bit against what the studio system was at the time, a bit before this movie. And even director of this movie was one of the writers. And Bonnie and Clyde, this is what comes after that somehow.
S2: Yeah, I was thinking about generation. ality with that. Yeah. And Dustin Hoffman in the graduate pictures at a revolution. Right. Or what’s the movie with raging writers? easy.. bolls would.
S7: Yeah. Everybody’s got the opposite, right? Easy bolls. Easy, right. It would be the titles of the movie that uninvite.
S2: And despite that, again, if you read those histories of New Hollywood and that period of, you know, the Mavericks appearing on the CIA, people like Warren Beatty and Arthur Penn and Robert Benton being one of them, you know, they were sort of like hippies then. But then when we get to 1979, they’re kind of yuppies and yuppie and a word that is totally contemporaneous with this movie that I’m sure was used to describe the characters in this movie. I’m sure. And I don’t know exactly what Robert Benton’s social status was at that point or if he had a kid or whatever. But he had matured. Right. I mean, he was a yeah. Older closer to being a middle aged man than in his hot-headed days as this wunderkind writing the Bonnie and Clyde script. And you see that in the movie, too. You know, you do sort of you know, that this change that was occurring in the boomer generation basic.
S4: Right. I mean, it’s just a fascinating year because then you compare that to movie like Apocalypse Now, which is this Spielberg generation director out in the jungle somewhere, wasting a lot of studio money, wasting a lot of time upset. That’s just a disaster because they’re in the jungle and there’s entire stories about this. And that, to me, feels closer to that maverick era of like the big budget, risky tourist production versus this smaller, fewer fingerprints artistically, just really sort of solid actor focused writing focused takes a single issue and tries to wrap its mind around that rather than Apocalypse Now, which is a totally different kind of animal from this armor or even something like all that jazz, I mean, coming at the same year. So these were all against each other for best picture alongside Norma Rae and breaking away. But this is just another I mean, you mentioned Mark Harris’s pictures at a revolution. And that year was one of those years where the best picture nominees were so different and they each represented some different part of where the industry was 1968. This feels like another one of those years where each of these films is something different to me. You have Apocalypse Now and all that jazz as very all tourists, very personal, very big, very difficult if breaking away. And I would say Kramer versus Kramer and Norma Rae, which are smaller, but about different things, but in different ways, but more social issue driven to the extent that the Kramer versus. Cramer really does explicitly make it tough about a social issue, not quite in the way that Norma Rae does. But this is a very political. Yeah, it’s a very political movie. It’s just its relationship to those politics is different to me than a movie like Normal Race, which is literally, you know. Sally Field on TABLESPOON UNION, right? Yeah.
S7: Now, Streep does not do right. I mean, this is this is domestic politics, right?
S2: It’s gender relations. And it’s a really, to me, shocking reminder that as recently as 1979, when I was 13 years old, know that there were real questions about what motherhood was, what fatherhood was in ways that if this movie is legally true to what was actually happening in courts at that time, it’s possible that it’s an overdrawn.
S8: You know, for example, joint custody is not really floated as a possibility between race. So it becomes this zero sum game of who’s gonna get custody. But yeah, I mean, some of the assumptions about women and motherhood in this movie, not just by the characters in the movie, but I would argue by the movie itself. Right. Are just shockingly dated for it having been so relatively recent.
S4: And yeah, I think we’re going to have to unpack. Also, just the ways that as an audience are understandings of these things are assumed. There are things that the movie doesn’t do with the mother that sort of we’re expected to fill in these gaps like this whole life she has in California, that we see zero of this other guy. She apparently starts dating. You know, there’s this whole other part of this movie that’s not a part of this movie, which is different than marriage story. That’s one of the things that I think no Bombach really tried to update is that the Scarlett Johansson character has a character. She has life. She has long monologues about why her soon to be ex husband. She has reasons that are more clearly defined than they are here. But I think this movie really does depend on you know, I think it’s assumed, actually, that the court would side with mothers like I think I think it depends on our understanding that happening socially to sort of engineer some feelings about that, because even based on the trial, I was surprised that he did not get custody based on what we saw in that trial.
S6: Right. Well, that’s things like things like that.
S2: That’s part of what the movie insofar as it is trying to make an argument, that’s one of the artists trying to make an argument about apparently the book was even more so that Avery Corman novel called Kramer versus Kramer that it was based on sounds kind of dickish like Rick Warren was kind of a men’s rights advocate, you know. And so part of the point of the novel, I think is, you know, what about fathers? Why don’t we have rights, too? And the movie, to its credit, tones that down to a certain extent, especially in Meryl Streep speech in the courtroom, which we’ll get to, I think, her most humanizing moment in the movie. But there’s still a lot of gender politics going on in this movie that feels really dated and strange to us now.
S6: And that’s not even getting into the behind the scenes stuff about doesn’t know it’s not which we will get into it. We will have to get into.
S2: Yeah. I think we should plunge into the movie itself. And when that stuff comes up, we’ll deal with it. Case by case, let’s show the movie kicks off with this great Vivaldi’s concerto and it becomes the theme. Which gave me this little sidebar about, you know, thinking about Vivaldi and 70s movies.
S7: Sam. OK.
S2: See, the force ends with Alan Alda and Carol Burnett competently based around that Vivaldi.
S4: Whatever you to your point about yuppies, there’s something going on culturally with these references.
S2: All right. Although then I was also thinking of a fantastic use of Vivaldi in a very non yuppy movie just this year, which is a portrait of a lady on fire. Oh, sure. Right. Which ends with that incredible moment of going to hear Vivaldi in concert and being kind of emotionally terminated by it. But what it sort of signifies in this movie, I feel like it does have to do with this sort of yuppie package ability of this movie. Right. I mean, it’s a it’s a concerto in C. It’s very pleasing. You know, it has a nice sort of balance, tonal quality. It’s not atonal or distressing at all. Right. You know, there’s something about this world that they live in, including that they’re not rich, but they kind of like upper middle class yuppie accoutrements of their world in their apartments, museum posters and everything. Granted, I don’t think the movie wants to just keep us inside that bubble. I think that there is some satire, some sense to expose that bubble is not a safe place. Sure. But there’s no question that it is marketed in a way toward the kind of people that the movie is about.
S4: Sure. Which is making me think and I’m not going to keep making marriage comparisons, but it’s making me think a lot about the use of Randy Newman’s music and marriage story, which to me is still a question mark. And this is nothing about Randy Newman. But as I sometimes felt here, maybe it’s just the way that I’m responding to what’s going on on screen. But I occasionally felt more so matsuri than here. But here, too, that the music is signifying an emotion. That is not the emotion that I think I’m watching. Yeah, I feel like I’m watching a pretty abrasive movie or about something embrace of whether or not the movie sort of lets itself be that rough. And then yeah, of Aldy kicks in. And I mean even I as I recall like early in the movie, there’s a moment where it’s happening because he’s walking down the street like at the beginning of seeing Merrill preparing to leave there.
S5: And there’s a moment where I can already tell from her face that she’s about to leave her husband. Even though I you know, I don’t know the plot or whatever, I can already tell. And Vivaldi, it’s just how we got here. It’s a different movie than I pick the one that I’m watching.
S8: So, yeah, that’s the montage we open with it, evolve all the con. And then essentially intercutting the train her saying goodnight to her son. With this, as you say, this extra level of sadness that we know something’s going on, even if you didn’t walk in knowing it was a divorce movie, the way she says, I love you, that sexual time after she talks him and you sort of know, lingering on her face, some kind of separation.
S9: Great close up of Meryl Streep. A wonderful question going on in her face. And then there’s a little montage that intercuts between her packing her suitcase, packing it, movie style, the way people always take their suitcases, like you’ll just toss them large array in here, casual. Right. You know, they’re never putting a Ziploc bag with thrashes in there.
S5: They’re never like standing on the suitcase. Like, if I were walking out of my husband, I’d be like, not as neat about it. But, you know, look, she’s prepared.
S2: And so as she packs, we cut to Dustin Hoffman in his office having this very kind of dude conversation with his boss. Right. So they made clear early on that it’s overtime. He’s staying late. Another more Ük Sorious, colleague of his, is saying, I’ve got to get home to my family. Dustin Hoffman is telling one more story about his Burberry coat and. And so it’s pretty quickly and economically established that he is a workaholic who gets home late all the time and is pretty checked out of his marriage.
S4: Yes. Oh, there’s actually another element here that is like what you mentioned about the Vivaldi feels so 70s to me. Phrases like mid Atlantic account, certain business phrases where you’re more than a paper pusher. But I still don’t totally know what you do. But I soon learn that you’re in advertising. Advertising is one of those jobs, just one of those New York of a certain class jobs of a certain era that you see everywhere. And that because we don’t see them as the trope in movies anymore, I’m now becoming aware of because I grew up when those were all the references and never really thought about.
S6: And that’s just like what a man having a job was, just like an account. Somebody’s always getting an account. It’s always an account. And there’s always lunches.
S2: Think about it. Actually, it’s always fair weather that we just talked about was also about the ad man get on the account. Right. Yeah, it’s always the account. And that also speaks to how entrenched these very mid-century, almost Mad Men era jazz dynamics are in their 1979 household. It’s just not questioned that he is getting accounts and jazz at home, taking care of the kid and the accounts thing.
S4: I mean, I think it’s really effective. And I think part of reason that trope stuck and I’m sure people have studied this historically. But, you know, there’s something at stake there because you can lose the account.
S5: And it’s not just the kind of job where you go to your work and you just have things that you do and you’re really not at risk of losing anything unless you really mess up. This is sort of like it’s high stakes. It’s a pressure job. It’s you have to live up to the task of this job. You just got promoted. You’re in charge of these accounts. It’s clear that you’ve been working towards these things. And, you know, this is the most important guy, right?
S2: When he says to his boss, I have to go smoke up some guy’s ass. Right. Right. He’s very aware that his job is based on seducing performing. Right. Probably taking people out for drinks and not being high. Right.
S5: It’s all sort of there in the mid Atlantic account. Right. This movie is. Full of things like that.
S9: And it’s also just a moment that you think, oh, I thought 1979 was roughly our era. But it’s not. It’s really closer to Mad Men days. You know, I mean, literally and just and socially, too, so. Okay.
S8: The first big dramatic scene in the movie is the encounter between the two of them. When he gets home from work and she tells him he’s leaving him as he’s on the phone, barely paying attention to her right now.
S10: So that’s everything.
S11: Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey. Enough.
S10: Enough. All right. What are you doing? Where are you going?
S11: Come on. Just tell me, what is it? That’s. Just tell me what I did to you. What is it?
S10: It’s me. My fault. You just buried the wrong person, that’s all.
S11: I was just going side. I can’t. I tried to.
S10: Please, just. I’m sorry.
S11: No, don’t. Don’t do it in their face. Please don’t make me go away. I don’t want to go. Just what you do, I swear. One day, next week, maybe next year. I don’t know. I go right up the window. Please.
S2: This is the scene where I think we have to bring in a little bit of outside behind the scenes information, because according to Merrill and she didn’t just say this in the metoo era. I think that she said this, that really? Okay. Yeah. When it was probably left often not even reported in the context of being anything particularly scandalous. But Dustin Hoffman slapped her in that scene before they started their fight. He just got out of the blue, surprise slapped her. And this, I think, was all part of his kind of method way of working. Right. His idea that, like, I’m gonna throw people off. I’d be very interested to hear what went on in his method since when he was studying, because for kind of abusive practice like that, to just be part of your method and for you to just think, oh, this is fine. It just it speaks very poorly to his character, for one thing. Makes me very sad because I grew up loving Dustin Hoffman and still find him just incredibly appealing. Yeah. This movie and many others and obviously, you know, he’s a super talented actor, but he seems to come to the process of acting, at least in that stage of his life, with this idea that he knows best. First of all, he’s the person who’s going to set the tone for these interactions with other actors. He doesn’t. Justin Henry, too, in ways that we’ll talk about. And you know, that he’s just gonna blindside people with these kind of acts of violence, really, because it’s his movie. And Meryl Streep was very. She had a lot of equanimity in the way that she talked about this in an interview. She was re-interviewed about it in 2018. And in the metoo period, you know, this great sit down interview with her and Tom Hanks. It’s in New York Times. And one of the things she says is, you know, it’s part of the actors process to unsettle each other. You know, I don’t want to be too hard on Dustin Hoffman in this situation because, you know, whatever I may have inadvertently hurt someone during a physical scene as well during the course of my career. But he says he was overstepping, right? Sure. And the idea of the slap, I think, was supposed to be too discombobulated or going into the scene, right? Yeah. He also claims that you can see the effect of the slap in the scene and maybe you have to be looking at it, a big high resolution screen or something. But I couldn’t see a red mark on her face.
S4: And no, I didn’t I didn’t notice. I didn’t look. Or if I did see it, maybe it just would have, you know, it’s Merrill’s face. So it’s emotional in the gray ones anyway. So I’m sure I just thought it was part of the acting.
S2: But you just thought of the idea like. Yeah, outside of the absurdity that you would ever, with out anyone’s consent, hit them in any situation. Just the idea that Meryl Streep needs an acting tip from you. Yeah. Yeah. And just because we’re on it. I mean, I don’t want this to turn into some complete auto DFA of Dustin Hoffman. But there’s another really cruel thing that he allegedly did on set that seems worth mentioning in the context of that out of nowhere slap, which is that Meryl Streep’s boyfriend, the actor John Cazale, the great actor John Cazale. Do you want to do a tiny riff on who John Cazale is?
S3: John Cazale, Fredo Godfather and The Godfather. He was in five movies between The Godfather, including The Godfather and The Deer Hunter. All Best Picture nominees. Yeah.
S8: I mean, big movie is really just like a John Keats of character actors kind of figure. He had this tiny, short, meteoric career that in which every single performance was a brilliant performance, just complete icon. And at some point over the course of The Deer Hunter got really sick with lung cancer and it was clear that he was dying. They considered taking him off the film. But Meryl Streep threatened to quit the film as well if he was taken off. And that was his last movie. He died in 1978, shortly after it was finished. So that was a very fresh tragedy and Meryl Streep’s life that everybody in the acting community knew about. And Dustin Hoffman needled her about it on set. Apparently, one of the things, the ways that he tried to get her to cry or get her to whatever emotionally raw state he wanted her to get to is that he would say things about John Cazale. I’m not even sure what you would say. Like how do you mock someone about the fact that their lover just died?
S3: Yeah, I don’t know. And also, I should say it would not be strange to me if like if she were also kind of meth or whatever. I’m here to say I’m open to exploiting those feelings. Like that wouldn’t actually be a strange thing to me for an actor to do for them both to participate in that way, because frankly, actors can be strange about these things and also acting as hard and accessing emotions as hard.
S4: So this is to say, like the invoking the dead boyfriend thing in itself to me is a problem here because he does it this way. Let’s non-consensual which just non-consensual. It’s also just wild because it’s. Yeah, I’m sure it’s on her mind body. I’m sure I’m sure she’s aware that that her partner died very recently. You know, it’s interesting to think about this for me because usually I feel like when I hear these kinds of stories about people doing things to manipulate the actors, to get performances out of them, it’s the director who’s doing these things. I think it’s really indicative that it’s Dustin Hoffman. It’s because I think that that shows you whose movie it is. Look, there’s producers, there’s other people. You don’t do that kind of thing if you don’t feel like you are in control of what the outcome of that thing will be or have a sense of what the punishment, if anything, will be. And I think you do that when it’s your set.
S2: Right. And I wonder, how did the director Avent and felt about that? I mean, how did you complicit or did he not know? Because I think it’s primarily a writer. He was not initially slated to direct, write and write as Francois Truffaut couldn’t come on. And I would say that he is more skilled as a writer than as a director. Right. So to. The script to this movie, I think is superior to the presentation, which is fairly conventional. Yeah, beautiful cinematography. It looks really good, but I mean it there’s no nothing groundbreaking about the way the story is now cinematic.
S3: I think any sort of lapses in that in the directing, I think good editing plus good writing equals a pretty good movie and good actors. Obviously, if it feels like it’s not really in the control of a director, but really just sort of happening, I think that’s very much what this movie feels like. But wouldn’t be the first time that an actor who felt like it was their movie really had control over, you know, how much of the other actors got to be in the movie or the extent to which the movie isn’t about them.
S5: You know, I really I really wonder these things with this movie, because I gotta say, it’s called Kramer versus Kramer. It’s Kramer to me. It’s just one Kramer. Or if there’s two Kramers, it’s the dad and the son. To me, it’s not man an ex-wife. It is Dustin Hoffman’s movie. Right. And that is not what the reviews of the time were reflecting. And that’s definitely interesting.
S9: You can just in pure screentime after this Atavist encounter between them, she disappears for the next 30 minutes of the movie.
S5: Nothing like that, which is wild because when you pick this movie last week, the only things that popped into my head were images of Meryl Streep. I just remember Meryl Streep in this film. I remember the court scene. I haven’t seen this movie maybe 10 years, but I just. Those are the things that I remember. And I remember, you know, young Marilyn and you believe her emotions and her cheekbones and her stature and all these things were functioning in the movie. I really did not remember that she was in so little of a movie. And I wonder if that’s the same for a lot of people. I really wonder if they ever watch it, if they walk away thinking. I remember more man who won an Oscar for this movie.
S8: So it’s not unfair to think that as far as what transpires between them in that scene before the elevator closes. By the way, total marriage story, quote of this movie, write them up and they’re closing that garage, driveway, door. And they kind of see each other with these stricken expressions just as it’s closing straight out of the elevator. And Kramer vs. Kramer, that’s here. And at the end, because the very last shot is that elevator door closing as well. Forgot about that. But what happens in that scene between them that you would find worthy of note? I mean, I think for me, one of the things would probably have to be that her reason for leaving has nothing to do with him. Right. I mean, you don’t know whether that’s her character kind of being in denial. Yeah. What? But, you know, she doesn’t lay out some list of feminist demands for him. Right. She doesn’t sort of say you didn’t do this and this and this and you need to change in this in that way or I’m leaving. She says it’s me. I’m not a good enough mother. I’m not patient enough with him. Right? Yeah.
S2: And I don’t know what’s going on in Merrill’s mind versus the screenwriters mind at that moment, but it’s one of those moments where I don’t know if the movie wants us to believe her and therefore somewhat vilify her as a mother or to feel like, oh, this woman is really struggling. Why can’t she give herself credit? Because we just saw her being a great mother. Right. Yeah. I take him to bed in a lovely way.
S4: Yeah. But, you know, one of the many complications about this movie for me is she’s being a great mother in the scene that she’s leaving her kid. Right. You know, this scene when she’s leaving, when they go out into the hall and. Right. She doesn’t list at this list of feminist demands, because I do think that that would’ve been too alienating for many an audience at that time or would have too easily vilified her. And I think the movie wants to be even keeled to a degree, but it does like legitimize his confusion over her leaving and the sense that at least initially when he’s stumbling to get it together. Yes, it’s clear that it’s partially because he’s been the guy bringing home the bacon, a phrase that he uses three times early in the movie. But also his wife just left him all of a sudden. And so he’s sort of a mess. Like there’s a degree to which that conversation sets me up to not be too hard on him for not being great at making French toast or her being frustrated with his son because, yeah, he was the working parent and she was the one at home. And now there’s suddenly this childcare gap. And I don’t vilify her from that, but I do start to feel some way about her when her friend, played by John Alexander comes and she is on Merrill’s side until Dustin Hoffman reminds her that Meryl left the kid.
S2: That’s a really striking moment. It’s the very next moment, I think, after he talks to his boss and his boss suggests, why don’t you farm your kid out to a relative to his credit, he doesn’t even consider that for a minute. Yeah, but I did have real questions like who’s getting him after school? You’ve got to have some kind of help.
S4: Yeah. Is there no baby? Are you an ad man? I’m supposed to believe you have money to a degree, so. But yeah, weird. Bizarre.
S2: You were you were saying about to say that. Yeah. Yeah. So fast forwarding through the bar scene. Jay Alexander is also a neighbor. She seems to live in the same building. So she comes downstairs to talk to him when he calls her to see if Merrill fled to her apartment or not. Yeah. And this thing is set up between the two of them, which I think, again, this dynamic is stronger in the novel, that it’s sort of like the women’s live people, you know, have this agenda of wanting to sort of implant the idea of freedom in their friends heads, you know, and so doesn’t often sort of trying to vilify the Jane Alexander character for doing that. And she does stand up for Maryland, say she was very unhappy. And I know you were not there for her, et cetera. But you’re right that I think that scene gives the final point into the extent that it’s a game. It gives the. Final point to Dustin Hoffman, because you get that close up of her face. Yeah. It was very brave of her to leave. And he says, how much kurds’ does it take to leave your kid? Yeah. And that’s followed by this long close up of Ja’nel Jaggers face looking stricken, which is a great stricken face.
S4: He’s very good at that.
S6: Alexander’s love with those character actors of that era apse everybody’s best friend. Whenever she pops up, I’m me, I’m happy. And she was usually what she was on TV. She was everywhere in the 70s and 80s.
S2: But and then there’s a dissolve, which is kind of an unusual old movie gesture transition to the next scene, a dissolve from her face to the next scene. And there’s no way that you can not read that as her having no rejoinder.
S4: Yeah, no reply. Okay. The thing that I want to say, I want to get something out about her character. But for me, one of the big tell’s in this movie is the Jane Alexander character, because although in the initial interaction between herself and Dustin Hoffman, it’s clear that she’s long term friends with Meryl Streep. And it’s clear that. She’s the competent, so she understands, she knows what was going on in that marriage with marriage to a degree that probably Dustin Hoffman doesn’t understand. I mean, he used the word sisterhood, but it is worth remembering that she has also been left by her partner. And over the course of the film, she and Dustin Hoffman become friendlier because their partners both left them. And the movie doesn’t do the thing that I really would’ve been annoyed by, which would make them have an affair. But what I think it does is actually a bigger betrayal because it shows you the ways in which, despite deeply understanding, I think what Merrills character is going through in ways that are totally not visible within the courtroom space, in ways that are not visible in questions like did he hit you or did he cheat on you? But in other kinds of slights, other kinds of discontent within the marriage that are just there, not violence. Therefore, you know, Jane, Alexander’s character understands those things, but she was left to and she’s raising her kids on her own. So ultimately at the end of the movie. How she gets from being Meryl Streep’s confidante to being the person on the stand who sang to Meryl. Things are different now. He’s really become a good dad. He’s really trying really hard and totally does not in the space of that court air any real sense of what she and Meryl talked about when Merrills confiding in her. I think that’s really big. That’s a way that the movie engined years. Even the only other woman in the movie is like, but you left her kid ultimately. And that’s big to me, because that means that Merryl really doesn’t have, you know, besides her lawyer, who’s not a character that we meet independently, we don’t get the same kinds of meetings between her lawyer and her that we get between Dustin and his lawyer. So you really don’t really have, you know, backup for her. And it’s all a question mark. And we don’t even hear articulated in that courtroom, not from Merrill, but also not from the friend. What was so bad about the marriage? The movie doesn’t really give you that, it places it all on. I had to find myself. It just makes it feel more like it’s about what she has to do, even though she’s saying like he wasn’t there for me. He wasn’t listening. It doesn’t really substantiate the things that she says she’s felt about the marriage.
S2: I would disagree with you on one point. I think that Merryl speech, the speech that famous she wrote. Right. You know the back story about that speech, right? Yeah. Some bit versions. Robert been asked her to write it. Yeah. In other versions she said I don’t like with this character saying I need to bring more sympathy and more depth to this character. Yeah, we wrote it. But at any rate, that speech which we can play when we get to the courtroom, sure was entirely scripted by her. And I think it’s one of the strongest moments in the movie. It is a moment that her character has some independent life other than, you know, a mother who fucked up. Yeah.
S5: What do you think about saving it for speech? I just feel like I don’t like that.
S6: Yeah, it’s a Band-Aid. It’s a Band-Aid. Yeah. It’s an effective Band-Aid.
S4: Yeah, it’s a great Band-Aid. It’s a. Of course, you won the Oscar Band-Aid, but yet it’s troubling to me. I have to say, it’s something I just kept thinking a lot about. This Thelma’s like, well, at least she had Alexander to be the Merill character stand in and she isn’t. And she’s there when the sun falls. So if that comes up again, she can testify to the fact that it’s just a it is just an accident. But, you know, yeah, it’s like her one witness is siding with the other guy. I struggle with that.
S2: So at that point, Meryl’s out of the movie for quite a while until we see her come back and start lurking in the diner school. Right. We have maybe half an hour or so the movie that’s just establishing what I would call the chaotic period. Right. The period where Ted Kramer and his son Billy are working out their difficult relationship. And once again, here we come into a lot of sort of cultural differences between now and the 1970s. Right. And that Mr Mom assumption that a guy can’t make French toast. Yeah. You know, that kind of day to day. Yeah. Coping with domestic life is impossible for a man. But I mean, the fact is, I don’t want to fault the movie too much for that because it probably is true for the majority of American heterosexual. And I believe that this character can’t make French toast. Dustin Hoffman does that well.
S2: And this whole part of the movie, I think, is where he really shines. You know, he is funny, but he also is very flawed and he’s struggling with those flaws. And if you start off the movie thinking, God, this Jerrick, he deserves for his wife to leave him. It’s in this period with Billy where he’s struggling that I, for one, really identified with him. Yeah, maybe it says a lot about me as a parent. But some of the moments where he was just like, Jesus Christ, I have a presentation tomorrow. Get out of my face. I mean, you got to sympathize and look good.
S4: French toast is actually sort of hard to make. It takes a lot of skill to do it well. It doesn’t take a lot of skill to do it. So it tastes good. But I really tried to make very good French toast and it was a little harder than people think. So I’m going to give him some credit there. But yeah, there are these incidents. You know, they’re making breakfast. It’s the being late picking them up one day or even actually in the scene that he the sun spill something on his work. Maybe it’s this conversation or different conversation, but it doesn’t. Hoffmann’s response is sort of like, you know, who took you to the zoo today, who got you ice cream? A sense of like I did all these things for you.
S5: Okay. And the other standing was going to be that you’re gonna come home, shut the fuck up, you’re alone. And like I said, I was dad until 6 p.m. And now dad has to work like this. A line that he still wants to have between these worlds says that he would even let his son have a drink near his work stuff because there’s that proximity. And of course, obviously, the son knocking it over is symbolic of the mess of this proximity, but it’s incidents like that. He brings a woman home from work. Jo Beth Williams, who has a great moment in the hallway with the sign nude and the awkwardness of that, I have to say, as someone with a step mom who had a similar interaction, it very awkward before she was my step mom.
S6: It was awkward. I had to say nakedness involved. Yes, it was. I guess that is right for my life. So thank you for that very relaxed way. Saying, well, very nice to meet you in this very business like.
S4: Yeah, but it’s wild thinking back over the relationship really is these incidents. On the other hand, a good movie is one where an adult and a kid try to make it work together.
S5: The paper moon, et cetera, about a boy. That’s always a good combination. And I think that this part of the movie works. But at the same time, he’s having all these work problems. I think that’s interesting, too. I mean, I really think the movie, if anything, was a good case for paternity leave, something I kept thinking about. Not that the son was just born, but I was like, yeah, like you’re a single dad now that he has with his boss.
S2: If we’re gonna talk about we’re probably. Yes, boss. Although I still have more to say about Justin Henjak relationship. But yeah, I mean a modern boss, of course would be legally obligated to be more caring. But yeah, it was it’s strange, the degree to which you see that work culture in this movie really is just assuring your boss. You know, just blindly covering for your home life. Your home life can’t even be talked about. He says something like, I know I’m not supposed to bring anything personal into the office. Yeah, right. Which is just something that, you know, you could sue your boss if he expects that of you now, you know. But maybe, in fact, that relative kind of inhumanity of his boss when it comes to talking about the kid is also just reflective of a different way of thinking about parenting in childhood. During that time. Right. Yeah. As much as this turns out to be this tender movie about learning to love your child. It also kind of has a very 70s ethic about what could parenting is. Yeah. And I feel like if you saw think about marriage story, you know, and how foremost and paramount the kid is in their minds at roughly the same age and marriage story that they’re having the custody battle over. You know, although the physical care of Billy is, you know, something that’s important to the adults. Nobody seems to be minding him emotionally that much for that movie. And there were lots of moments in that stretch of the movie where the two are struggling, father and son together, where I felt like I identify with Dustin Hoffman doing. He’s funny. He’s carrying off this, you know, chaos of being a single dad for the first time. And I believe that. But at the same time, I really feel for this little kid. It’s not really getting very emotionally guided through this bleak time in his life, you know, and there are a lot of moments where they would have a fight. But the way that the fight would be resolved, I felt like was not quite objective enough on the debt side. And maybe this is just me with my 21st century parenting, but I feel like if my kid were going through that ending with that little of a kid, I might do more than just like. All right, go do your homework and go to bed. Yeah.
S4: You know, and yeah, this is very much. We’re sitting in 2020 in perfect, obviously. But generally I feel like, you know, a scenario like this in a movie, I wind up thinking I think accurately about the kid, like this kid’s going to go to therapy, write a memoir about you, fight about this for the rest of your lives and something of the kid’s emotional life, isn’t there. Like, it’s not the performance. And I think that the son is more than just a prop for showing the difficulty of the divorce. And, you know, he’s more than a thing that sets the movie into motion with conflict over the custody. But I didn’t feel like the movie exploited that tension. You know, like there’s more crying and arguing and interesting stuff to be done between the father and the son that I think I missed out on.
S2: I think that’s a writing problem, really, because. Yes. And Justin Henry is tastic. Yes. All the results of the improvisation, which apparently there was tons of improvisation time between Dustin Hoffman and Henry Total and that ice cream scene where he eats the ice cream. And it’s the entire time his dad to say, if you take one more bite, apparently 100 percent improvised. Let’s go. Robert Benton just filmed it to kind of warm them up and then decided to use it because it was so funny. So even though they have a real connection, I believe that. And yes, I cried several moments when they, you know, found themselves getting closer together. Yeah, you’re right that there’s something about the kid character of the son. I mean, it’s hard to write a kid character, you know, and he’s not just a prop, as you say. He’s not one of those kids like the marvelous Mrs. Masel kids. They literally are just dolls that are posed in her youth that provide absolutely no, you know, they have no inner lies of their own. But, yeah, I feel like realistically, a kid that was getting jerked around that much in that confusing of a way would have more questions and conversations about it than he does.
S4: Yeah. And one thing I really like about my story, which is a film and I have some mixed feelings on, but quite like in many ways is that the son’s behavior, but without anyone saying it’s suggestive of the son is experiencing things going on in this marriage because the son is being a little bit resentful, acting out a little bit like there are ways in which maybe he’s just a brat or maybe his parents are getting divorced and he feels all kinds of ways about it. I don’t know. And I don’t need the movie to diagnose or really even put a name to these things. But it’s like a thing that I feel when I watch the movie. Yeah. And this one, who knows if they if they were to do it today how the son would come out. I mean parenting I think is different right now.
S5: But I totally you know, like I know that son, you know, like I know the man that that son becomes in a way like that’s a lot of people that I know. And they probably didn’t have this conversation with their fathers either. There needs to be a flash board to use like on his book tour. All right. He hasn’t spoken to his dad any years and they’re just reuniting and they’re finally getting over this because I just feel like this is bad for this kid.
S9: I mean, I mean, Justin Henry Delva still acting here and there. You know, he obviously it’s a good big role. I’d love to see what happens with Justin Henry.
S4: Yeah, we’d love to see a marital sequel as well. Let’s just do the whole thing.
S2: Well, also a prequel or just a at the same time. Well, where you see what Joanna Kramer was doing during all of that time. Right. Because we know she’s off in California finding herself. So you know what job she takes up? Well, she, like her husband, I think, was in design and advertising, and she ends up well. We’ll get to there when we talk about the courtroom scene. But she ends up getting what for the time was a very high paying job. Right. She gets this $31000. Oh, right. Right. Which I looked at the equivalent. And that would be like over six figures in today’s market. And she’s making almost as much money as her husband was Afrique prior job. But there’s one more thing I want to say about this Justin Henry stretch of the movie. Yeah. Which I would say takes place up through the playground accident. Yeah. Kind of the turning point of the movie emotionally is the playground accident where he falls and cuts his eye. And Ted Kramer, his dad has to pick him up running. I love how that scene kind of echoes, you know, the many romantic scenes of people running through Manhattan, you know, on their way to their beloved or whatever. It that is actually one of the more beautifully shot scenes of, you know, how. He runs holding the kid to the yard. But that scene becomes important for several reasons. I mean, it’s a change in the relationship between the father and son, obviously, right. And he insists on being there in the emergency room while the stitches are being put in. Yeah, it’s a change in the relationship between Ted Kramer, the Dustin Hoffman character, and Jane Alexander’s character, Margaret. Yeah, right. I guess they’ve had this kind of prickly thing where he kind of suspects that she was turning his wife against him, etc. But then they kind of start co single parenting together and becoming chummy and I think different playground daily. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. So that’s the moment where she feels horrible because she was watching the kid at the moment he fell. Right. So then she feels like she has something to make up to Dustin Hoffman for. And then of course, later on in the court scene, it will become this object of litigation between the tyrants. Another marriage story moment where something that’s innocently shared between the two exes becomes weaponized in court. But before we move on from the scene of the kid cutting his eye, I just have to again. And I feel I’m not just doing this to trash Dustin Hoffman, but there’s another disturbing moment of method acting behind the scenes meanness there. And I don’t know if it was Justin Henry who told the story or what. But apparently part of the way he got Justin Henry to cry so convincingly when he falls in the playground and is subsequently on the table getting stitches. And it is really heartbreaking because it’s real kids here, if you know it is, really feel like he’s being taught a real pain. Yeah. Apparently, Dustin Hoffman, right before the take, whispered something to him about a crew member that he’d grown close to some guy named Eddie. I mean, you imagine your kid working on a film, right? You’re kind of the favorite of all these, you know, grips and lighting people and people running around making the film happen and doesn’t often said something to him like, oh, you know, friendships made on film sets are always temporary. And after this is over, you’re probably never going to see Eddie again. I mean, he was just emotionally baiting a little kid to get him to cry convincingly in a scene, which is just it’s just so rotten.
S4: That is rotten. It doesn’t make you wonder, because there been a good number of really great child performances. And I do often wonder where they come from. You know, like it’s a movie. So you don’t know the things that are being said behind screens that trigger emotions. That to us in the context of the narrative look like they’re responding to things in the movie. But you don’t know. And like I do often just wonder particularly about child performances before a certain moment when I think people tried to be more humane.
S2: I do wonder if Jackie Coogan and the kid. Right, right. Who had more convincing tears. Right. Coogan and the kid. And I don’t know what happened behind the scenes.
S4: Yeah. Like, how do you get a child to cry that way? Do you say act? I don’t know. I mean, some yeah. Some kids are precocious or, you know, emotionally can wield themselves in ways that are you know, people are just talented in that way.
S2: But I would love to read a book about this. I would love to write a book about this. I mean, great child performances in history, Pather Panchali. You know what Satyajit Ray say to that kid? Yeah. And I’ve read about I can’t think of the examples now, but I read about this happening. If you’re a good director who’s sort of a sensitive human being to a kid expecting you, find a way into it. Yeah, I’m sure Spielberg must have talked about this somewhere with A.I. and stuff like that. Or E.T.. Yeah, but there’s a way that you talk him into it, sort of saying, you know, this is pretend, but you know, we’re imagining that this happened. But to bring in a counterfactual thing like this guy, I’m never going to love you again. You know, just it’s it’s like your dog is going to die or something like that.
S5: And it led to a great scene. What are we gonna do about it? And an Oscar nomination. You know, screw us. I guess that is really rough.
S4: And that is one of the moments where I agree with you. The relationship between the two of them starts to shift. He goes to me from being a kid who is still mentioning mom and wanting his mom and also has her portrait right next to his bed to not being gung ho about dad, but certainly being, I think, more comfortable with the idea. And also just part of the way that the film handles the passage of time, just very invisibly. All of a sudden, we’re eight months since Meryl Streep left, and then by the end of it, we’re 15 or more.
S2: Yes. I think it’s right after the cut scene, actually, that there’s a baby, a fade to black and there’s a passage of time. Yeah. And I think that’s writer. One more thing about Justin Henry and Backstage Facts is that they shot the movie in order, apparently mainly for Justin Henry. So the idea was supposed to be that they would reveal to him on each new day of shooting what was happening to make the emotional reality come more life for him. And I’m always interested in a movie that was shot in order for whatever reason, because I think I was. I had been a movie fan for a long time before I realized that most movies aren’t shot in order. You know, it’s so much emotional sense as if they were. And the idea that you could be playing, you know, the climax of the last scene on the first day is still discombobulating to me.
S4: And I think it’s hard to wrap your mind around. I mean, particularly like heavily emotional films like this one. And after you talk to actors, when they’re asked about a particularly powerful scene in a performance and they’ll say that was my first day on set. And, you know, I mean, I think I just heard a story about this with Tom Hanks, how he just sort of had to walk onto set and be Mr. Rogers. And, you know, is only so big in the movie. So it really is just like his isolated whatever number of days. And you just have to be in it already. And everyone else already knows each other or whatever. Merrill was not shooting very much for this movie. And she just left the show up.
S2: Yeah, I think she was on set for 12 days. Things like that.
S4: And she shows up and Dustin Hoffman and the kid have. Been acting alongside each other for a longer time and she is sort of an outsider character. It’s hard to wrap your mind around an actor in particular, but also a director directing things such that they know how things are supposed to play so well that they can do it out of sequence, that they are so clear of the intentions or good enough with improvisation or good enough with getting multiple kinds of takes that are good enough that could be used in different ways to piece a movie together and a movie like this. It makes sense to go through the emotions in order. It’s sort of a strange movie in so many ways to wrap my mind.
S2: I think so. I think in part just because of how unconsciously it carries a lot of assumptions of its day.
S4: Yeah, but just what’s useful to me about somebody’s best picture nominees and winners that you go back and watch them and you’re like, oh, you know, I’m sure this made sense. Then there are things like this that are aren’t timeless, but so much more interesting. Also, this is a better movie than a lot of the other Oscar nominated, broadly speaking, films.
S2: Right. I mean, I feel like there’s probably a kind of backlash discourse about this movie now that I’m sure square and sexist and old fashioned. And why did it when the Academy Award. But within within the universe of best ping.
S6: Listen, I’ve seen worse. I’ve seen worse in the last few years. Yeah, look, I’ll take it.
S5: You know, I mean, I take it over Apocalypse Now or all that jazz or breaking away. I don’t know. But now I mean, whatever.
S6: Green book. Overtreat book. Yeah, definitely. Let’s get to the.
S2: I guess I would say last third of the movie. Yeah. It’s after the I cut incident and after that jump to a future in time which is unclear at first how long it is. But in the end it’s 15 months they say between when she left and when she comes back for the trial brand. So we become aware, I think over the course of a bit we were just talking about that she spent stalking him in the diner across from school, just standing there. And and we spot her right before I think we see her standing there, before Ted ever sees her standing there, because she doesn’t confessed to him until that scene where they go to the every side restaurant, which apparently still exists. I really goes into that place with the awesome like beige gingham tablecloth. Oh, we should go where they sit and have a glass of wine. And she tells him what she’s been up to. All of those months, which was being in California, finding herself is very vague.
S6: Exactly what it is, smoking weed. What does it mean? Yes, that is what I want. I want the movie of her like in Bolinas running across. I would love.
S5: Yes, but yes, she does come back. It’s a couple of months before she. Right. She’s in New York for a couple of months. Lurking before she reaches out. Because I think she partially perhaps knowing that this could be a trial coming, wants to establish that Ray’s in town. Right.
S2: She’s not established residency. Yes. Just like in the Noah Baumbach movie. Yeah. And he’s actually quite accepting of. I was sort of surprised that it went on be more of a fight scene when they meet in that restaurant because, you know, she is just kind of popping back up with no notice.
S3: Yeah. But he’s a quick to anger, I think.
S2: Actor in that way I would expect to get from him. But that doesn’t happen until she starts to hint that she wants custody. Right. I mean, he’s actually pretty accepting of her when he says, OK, well, what were these things that you did to find yourself? But the thing that gets him whipped up into a frenzy such that he eventually throws his glass against the wall leaves is that she says that she wants custody of.
S4: Yeah. And this is for me another one of those imbalances, because this I think it’s the moment in the film where I realize it takes her saying, I want the kid for me to think, you know, I haven’t actually seen her raise the kid. I haven’t seen the counterpoint to him raising the kid with just her. I’ve seen the opening scene where she says goodbye to the kid, which again, is loaded because she’s saying goodbye to him. But when she comes back for the kid, it is sort of hard because ultimately when the trial starts, we have only seen Dustin Hoffman raise the kid. And so everything that Jane Alexander winds up saying about how hard he’s tried and how much better he is than he used to be is narratively true. And there’s no way around that. It’s a question mark for me. It’s just like not to have any doubts about a mom. She is. Because I think the son’s whoa over her leaving a suggestive to me. But yeah, this the moment where she comes back and I realize, well, you know, what do you like as a mom? Like, I don’t know you. I don’t know you in that way. And we’re talking about custody, which is about raising the kid. It comes down to I haven’t seen him raise the kid and I can’t feel even me about them going into the courtroom.
S2: Yeah. And that’s a moment where I feel like maybe unconsciously. But the movie does betray its men’s rights. Yes. You know, it’s not making a case against her that she’s bad. But by leaving her this blank, blank, whose only quality that we know of is that she needs to go find herself and she’s not happy as a mother. You know, it just it leaves it very open for you to say, well, why is she getting custody just because she’s a mother? What other qualities does she have? But it’s is loading the deck because it doesn’t show you what other qualities.
S4: Yes. And unfortunately, Meryl Streep is really good at giving a blank enough substance where maybe sometimes I’m slow to ask those questions about the script. She’s good at being a mystery and she’s good at making that feel alive in some way. And the movie can rely on that in a way. But I don’t think it’s a good choice.
S2: Did you know that she didn’t know that he was going to throw the glass at the wall in the restaurants? I did just read that, which is another moment of just I mean, not exactly abusive, but kind of temperamental, crazy behavior. Apparently, according to the story he did tell the cameraman, so there were two men conferring about the fact that this glass was going to be broken and the person who is being filmed while it’s broken feet away from them was not told.
S3: And David, I mean, what have you. I mean, it’s a glass. She got shards of glass. Shards of glass out here. And that’s intense. Yeah, I think there’s a whole conversation in there. People have written books about this. Are writing this about this method acting. I have a lot of questions sometimes and things like this come up. I do think things like this don’t do a service to that tradition. And I do think that a lot of this is chauvinism and not really method acting. Right. But I do think method acting sort of allows an easy pathway. Right. Actally so scientism. And it’s clear in this scene, I think.
S2: Yeah, very gossipy aside in my research for this, I happened to come across a fairly recent last few years, late night talk show clip of Meryl Streep. I know she was on Jimmy Fallon or what? She was on a late night talk show, but they were playing the game of Fuck Mary Kill, which I believe they called chag Mary Kill and to keep it clean air television. And and they gave her three actors. I think it was Jack Nicholson, Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman. And so she said she would shag Jack Nicholson, which he said was a very funny, sly smile. She would marry Robert Redford. And then she was quiet. And then the host said, and Dustin Hoffman.
S7: And she just silently smiled and sliced her finger.
S9: So now we’re in the home stretch of the movie. And this is where Dustin Hoffman, because he’s becoming a better and better dad, is starting to become a worse and worse advertising executive. And there really is kind of a zero sum setup there.
S8: This is not a you can have it all kind of movie, especially because as with this we’ve established he doesn’t seem to have any help with childcare whatsoever. So there’s this scene with his boss where he gets taken in to the office and just dressed down for having been to absent. Right. He was he missed a deadline. He was late for a meeting. He’s having to run off to his kids PTA conference or whatever it is.
S3: So he loses his job. The Mid Atlantic account, he gets fired. And this is important because he’s about to go into this custody battle and he needs to have a job. He needs to show that he’s stable, employed, because as his lawyer correctly points out, there’s no way he’s gonna get custody without showing that he can provide for his son. But I think he’s fired on. I brought it down. I believe it’s like December 21st or 20 seconds or right before the holidays. So it’s this incredible, impossible but enjoyable time crunch in which he has like a day or two really to get a job. And he winds up sort of arranging an interview for him so very assertively during this company’s holiday party and demanding to be interviewed by people who are on their way out of town to go to vacation. Obviously, first of all. I don’t remember him asserting himself on his own job in quite this way in terms of saying, fuck off, I have a kid which would have been useful for him. I think his way of sort of gathering himself together and showing his capability, his ability to just walk into an office and demand a job going into this custody battle is of note to me. It could partially be there to suggest something about how much his kid matters to him, that he’s going to put himself out there in this way before this battle. But there’s also something like, you know, while the balls on this guy, big balls, you know. Because I think one of the you know, the guy that he talks to you to get the interview even says might wear a hot shot, aren’t we? And doesn’t often says, yes, we are. And there’s there’s a way in which going to this custody battle. He’s not vulnerable. He’s on top of it. He’s got a job. He lost the job. He got another job. He’s a good dad. If something were to go wrong, you know, he’s going to be there when the kid falls. He’s going to be there to get a new job. You know, he’s he’s employable. Does it matter if he loses his job?
S9: Right. And also, he’s using that same hard headedness and aggressiveness that at the beginning of the movie marked him as kind of a dick. Yeah. Right. In the service of something important. Yeah. Moment of. Yes, we’re a hot shot isn’t really about him being a hot shot. It’s about saying, I don’t care what you think of me. I need to get this interview.
S3: Yeah. I’m desperate. But also I’m gonna do this. This is gonna happen. And because it’s like a last minute thing that happens before the custody stuff and and then we get there and I feel very competently about him going into it. And also our way into the court is we’re following him. We see him walk in. We see him sort of talking to his attorney, his attorney whispering something about sort of how to behave. And it very much is to me as a viewer. His space. You know, I mean, I think it’s an interesting movie for these reasons. And like for her to be in the moment and feminism when it came out the moment and all their careers when it came out. Yeah. It’s an interesting fatherhood movie because a time capsule of just like what that must have been in a way and representation of that moment. The highest grossing movie of its year was this movie about this. That’s wild.
S8: Yeah. Which makes you realize that there were endless conversations. Right. And so Magda have been so many with the freaking imagine the twins.
S6: But yeah, I think social media people were having actual conversations in bars with gingham cables going into this movie. Yeah.
S4: And then talking about it afterwards. Yeah. It’s kind of exciting to think about the conversations people have had about all the conversations that we probably had about marriage story. Whose side is this movie on? I think we had those conversations about marriage story in part because a number of us remember this movie.
S8: One more thing to take away from that great scene at the Christmas party where he wangled his way into that job is that he takes a pay cut, a significant pay cut, and that the bosses are surprised. Well, wait a minute. Isn’t this kind of an entry level position for you? But no, he just needs any job, so he takes it. And that’s it about to become important in the courtroom battle because mysteriously, we don’t quite know how. But Meryl Streep, despite having had eight years off the job market, has wangled herself $31000 a year job, which is only $2000 short of what he was making at his prior fancy, you know. Let’s get an an account job. He’s now making less money than she is, which he finds out in the courtroom, you know, which again, especially in 1979 was probably a real moment, a harsh moment for, you know, the breadwinner to have to experience.
S3: Yeah. And so those kinds of exchanges like in this court scene are really interesting to me. They’re also why a movie like this wins, I think, best picture and gets so much positive response because it is sort of very clear. But also, you know, in the ways that it frames their interrogations on the stand in the way that it uses very pointed close ups of them reacting to each other or looking near the camera or the islands being to each other or looking off in the distance to avoid gaze, as Meryl Streep does with Jean Alexander, as Jane Alexander saying things. They’re probably not helping her case. Those things, you know, they’re very in the way that the recent best picture winner spotlight was formally rigorous in a way of designing these emotional and psychological attitudes just through pointed things like where people are in a room. And when you use a close up, it’s like that kind of capital of filmmaking that I think stands out in a drama like this, like this is the scene where I’m like this, where you won best picture, you won best picture, because this is the scene that people can point to. And this is the scene where Roger Ebert can then say it feels even between these two people. It’s like it’s like the scene that sort of reorients so much of what happened before to my mind that suddenly they’re equal. And it’s a good couple of scene. It’s more than one scene. It’s good writing. It’s good acting. It’s my three favorite people. Dustin Jane Marro. But it’s also yeah, for me sort of where the movie and the no. I think I just can’t get over to the fact that Merrill’s like her life is not there for me.
S9: Well, but then that’s where I think we have to hear a sound clip of the speech. That’s right. I mean, if you come to the scene and say this is the best written scene in the movie, you know, I feel like we have no choice but to stand the fact that Meryl Streep wrote her own claim, Yacine, and that it is one that brings in for the first time something to her character besides that which makes her a foil to Dustin Hoffman’s kind of parent that he is. You know, let’s listen to the account that she gives of the reason she left and what she’s gotten from her time away.
S12: And because of his attitude towards my fears and his inability to deal with my feelings, I had come to have almost no self-esteem. I was scared and I was very unhappy in my mind. I had no other choice but to leave. The time I left, I felt that there was something terribly wrong with me and that my son would be better off without me. And it was only after I got to California that I realized after getting into therapy that I wasn’t such a terrible person. And. Just because I needed some kind of creative or emotional outlet other than my child, that didn’t make me unfit to be a mother.
S4: You know, just re listening to it, though it occurred to me, is part of how powerful that that moment is. Does it depend on how you in the audience can fill in? What phrases like more and more unhappy mean or what phrases like no self-esteem, no self-esteem or emotional creative outlets contra the typical demands of motherhood? I feel like those things like my mom’s divorce, my dad for similar ish reasons and I have a sense of what those things mean. But it occurs to me that they also leave a lot unsaid. And I wonder if the power of this speech in terms of how it recalibrates or jiggers, how you feel about these people relative to each other, depends on like how devastating more and more unhappy is. There’s a way in which I feel like someone could I mean, compared to the things that we saw him go through, sort of not materialized that language and as like an actual experience that is still worth leaving your child. I mean, also, I think the history of as far as I can see as a queer person, the history of straightness and marriage very much does not fill in those gaps of the emotional lives of women and wives. That’s certainly what Western artists sort of always telling me. But it’s like an extraordinary performance. And I think the power of that depends on you.
S9: I think it depends on us a little bit because what she’s saying are in some ways empty buzz words yet, although she obviously feels something very deeply, there’s something behind them. Yeah. You know, but they’re broad enough and open enough that you could read a lot of different things into them.
S3: I mean, part of what I think is extraordinary about the performance is that she is mining a lot there for me. I feel like I do understand what she means. Like I can see this moment coming late in the film and reshaping what came before in a way. But then we’re watching it. It’s different when you remember all the things that come before I struggle a little bit there. But it’s also like it’s not about her and it’s not really even about the speech itself. It’s about the meaning that the film has attached to these things.
S9: I would be very curious to hear what the Robert Benton script before sounded like, the one that either he or she or both agreed needed to be scrapped for something that was more sympathetic to her character and opened up more possibilities for her character.
S3: She did do a lot of that, right. The character is less empathetic overall.
S9: Yeah, but I think for the most part it had to do with her interpretation. And yes, your acting choices as opposed to I am actually giving you a new piece of script.
S7: Did we have some rewrites?
S8: And as you say, I mean, the speech that she gives is very open ended. It doesn’t completely win you over to her side. It leaves a lot of room open to still dislike her. If you wanted to and think, you know, she doesn’t deserve to get the kid. So I only hesitate to imagine what it was like before. And also, I think it’s worth getting into what happens immediately after the speech, which is the really brutal novel. And she’s cross-examined by his lawyer and really broken down and forced to admit that she’s a failure. I mean, it’s a horrible, horrible moment. Maybe analogous to some of the things that happen in marriage story in the courtroom, you know, moments where, you know, someone’s actions or speeches weaponised against them in a way. And really the whole point of that lawyer’s line of questioning is to just emotionally break her down and get her to say on the stand, yes, I was a failure at the one lasting emotional relationship of my life, which was with my husband.
S3: Yeah. And, you know, part of what I think is interesting about marriage story and I think these moments are things that that movie deliberately revises by. For example, this Meryl Streep moment is toward the end of its movie. And in marriage story, Scarbro has a big monologue early in the movie between herself and Laura Dern, where she’s sitting down and in a long, kind of winding moment describing her problems with her marriage. And since she’s doing it with her attorney to be, it’s detailed, it’s tangential. It feels to me like a counterpoint to like a moment where, you know, Bombach himself maybe or someone else like reading the script was like, okay, you see this moment. You have to do something better than this in your movie. Like you’re doing the opposite, you’re putting it toward the top. You’re having it be a privileged conversation with an attorney where she can just unwind. The husband is not there. It’s not in the courtroom. She’s not going to be a sort of slut shamed or call the failure directly after. And she is going to lay out all the reasons that the marriage sucks before we really hear from the husband why the marriage sucks. It’s like it goes out of its way to do the work. Some people still think that story is too uneven. But I think seeing it in relationship to this movie is very clarifying for me. Actually, it’s really helping me understand some of those choices. I can’t say that they’re all like specifically pivots against this movie, but I’m 100 percent sure that everyone involved in that movie watched and watched this film for sure. I mean, it however autobiographical the film is, I think it’s aware of its place in movie history.
S9: Yeah. To be a double feature. You know, they had a great double 20/20 double feature. So we wrap up the courtroom scene not knowing what’s going to happen custody wise. I honestly didn’t know. I forgot either. I forgot who got custody. I saw this so long ago and I knew that there was some kind of a switcheroo at the. And but what it actually was came as a surprise to me. So after a short and I think really heartbreaking scene in which Hoffman goes to meet his lawyer at a restaurant. Right. And that’s the moment. Finds out that he’s lost. He can tell just in the lawyer’s face. And I love that detail. He doesn’t have to actually ask the question. And he’s probably not surprised because the law did at the time and probably to some extent still does tend to go in the favor of the mother, especially for younger children like this. And then we get probably the supreme tearjerker scene of the whole movie where he and Billy make breakfast together. French toast again. Right. Mirroring the first time. And now they’ve got it down to a science and they can make it in this lovely way. And they both kind of know that, right? They know it’s their last morning together. Billy stuff is all packed up.
S6: And I admit it’s a good moment. It gets me. It does. It’s like a little Old-Fashioned dramatic symmetry. I can’t I can’t not respond.
S9: That little shawl collared sweater that Ali is wearing when he’s sitting with his suitcases, he looks so adults, but he’s so tiny. I mean, you just really feel for him because he’s just gotten so yanked around in the course of this movie.
S3: Yeah, the poor kid. Yeah. It’s really as many criticisms. I have this movie. I can’t escape the power of these like after the court, this stuff. And yet to your point about him finding out that he lost, it’s even we don’t see the attorneys face. Right. It’s like Dustin Hoffman entering the bar, the restaurant or whatever, walking toward the camera and reacting to the face. And we didn’t know. It’s all extraordinary. And then yet there’s the end.
S9: OK. So then talk about a spoiler. So then at the end that we both forgot about. I know. I completely I completely forgot. Is that the very morning? Honestly, this is not a great argument for the Meryl Streep abilities, but the very morning they’ve been up all night packing. Right, putting the teddy bears in bags and crying about it. And she shows up that morning to pick him up and she can’t do it. In fact, she doesn’t even come up to the apartment. She calls through the intercom and Dustin goes down to her and it’s in the lobby. And she springs a surprise, which, you know, you see and I have to say, I love the over the shoulder shot as they’re hugging and he’s comforting her. But he’s also smiling with the narrative like. Yes. You know, like, I got it. I won. But she tells him that she’s not taking the kid. And what is the reason that she gives that he’s home already?
S4: Right. What’s a good reason? You know that this is normalcy and that’s something that kids absolutely need. And that’s the kind of thing they get said in the courtroom, even just like what we need for the kid is stability. The kid is the focus. I will say something the movie doesn’t do that I’m glad it doesn’t do is that we know that she went to a therapist. I think that if we’d seen those scenes, the movie would be at risk of pathologizing her more. And I’m glad that that doesn’t happen, because this is like a mysterious choice. It’s just not what I’m expecting from her. And it also doesn’t feel inconsistent. I’m surprised, but I believe her doing this. I’m glad that there’s no, quote unquote, reason beyond this reason.
S9: Also, a very understanding reaction on Ted Kramer’s part at that moment when he could easily have said, can you please stop jerking us around here? We were up all night packing breaks, crying over French toast, and now you’re not going to take him. But I feel like there.
S8: As with the restaurant scene up until one hour throws the glass, that there’s a sense a little bit like at the end of marriage story, actually, that the two of them are starting to come to a place that they realize, wait, we have to get over our own drama. So we got good co-parents. Right. And the things she says about the clouds painting the clouds in the room. Another tear jerking argument. Right. And just this idea that it’s the place that she has built for him, which is the first place you see them together in the clouds. Right. That he belongs. And, you know, we have to assume that they’re going to have some kind of arrangement, if not joint custody, that she’s going to be there for his life in some way. Right. Right. In the same way that Mary’s story has a happy but rueful ending where they’re all gonna be. Okay. I think this movie ends up there, too.
S3: Yeah, I agree. It’s a good, thoughtful ending. And something I was saying to you off, Mike, is just, you know, in this era of the Academy Awards when they didn’t have screeners sticking these kinds of landings does seem to matter in terms of the impressions that voters are, you know, other academy who have less of a movie. Yeah. That these last segments are, I think, where the movie really makes a really great case for itself. Like the whole movie, I think makes a case for itself. But it’s the end where you’re like. I mean, does it compare to the end of Apocalypse Now? No, not to me. Or the end of ologies. I’m never gonna get over it. But yeah, there’s no justice at Oscars. There is no justice. I’ll have to get over it. And this is also not coincidentally, this is also where Meryl Streep is a part of the movie.
S9: Yeah. And Meryl Streep, as always. And as throughout her career, you know, she can elevate material. And I think that there have been better last lines to a movie than the last two lines of this movie. I agree is how do I look? You look terrific. It was sort of one like really? That’s where you’re ending it. Elevator door closing which both. It echoes that earlier. Elevator door close. And it asks a lot of them both facially. Right. I mean, they have to get a lot done in this few seconds as the door is closing between them. And I kind of wish that they hadn’t exchanged that very 70s moment of dialogue at the end. But I do actually love that it ends on that close and with her very uncertain sort of face. You know, I mean, she’s gonna go up and tell Billy that she’s not taking him. That’s probably going to be a painful scene. And it’s way right. He’s not just gonna fist. Up about it. He’s gonna be confused and sad about it. And there’s just this great expression on Meirelles face as the door closes on her that sort of, you know, I don’t know what lies ahead. You know, I don’t know if I can fix this. Also, maybe just the slightest bit of pleasure that, you know, her husband just told her she looks good. Yeah, but not the implication. We’ll get back together. No. Apparently, an ending was shot or at least written that they were gonna go up together in the elevator. Tell him. And then they just decided that there was too much of a hint that they might get back together again. You know, make it clear that the marriage was really over. They had to have that closing elevator door.
S3: Yeah, I agree. I think that’s really effective. I hadn’t considered her going back up there. Now I like this better. I agree with those closing lines are awkward to know something about it.
S9: Having that exchange between them that she’s seeking approbation from here doesn’t really seem in keeping with how far they’ve both come. I agree to the movie.
S3: Yeah, powerful ending. I’ll give it that. I’ll give it more than that.
S9: I mean, I don’t dislike the movie, but definitely of the movies we’ve talked about on the show. One of the ones that I feel like I’m not gonna say it stands up the least well, but it feels the most of its time. Right. It’s not one of those uncanny things like The Magnificent Ambersons or high and low, where you see and say, I can’t believe this was made X number of years ago. I can believe that this was made or even Conder with the kink stuff.
S3: That’s sort of like what was going on.
S9: Yeah, there’s these moments where movies are kind of surprisingly modern in a way that they don’t seem aware. Right. This movie more often has the opposite problem, that it thinks that it’s modern and forward looking when in fact it’s kind of retro.
S3: Yeah, but that’s that’s also what to me makes it exciting for you. Unfortunately, like being really interested in movies means that I just watch things like this that I don’t feel overly positively about. But they’re just so interesting to think about as they are, you know. Strangely, this movie gave me an idea for the other movie. We should do OK. We’re going to turn the tables a little bit with woman, lead male, supporting actor. Everyone’s to win Oscars. I would like to do Signs of the Lambs. Oh, my God.
S9: Also related because it swept the Oscars five minutes.
S3: Except. And, you know, unlike with Kramer, which look, Kramer, I think has a very neat relationship to marriage story, but I’m realizing a lot of it just the errors have changed so much that, you know, there’s no Ben Hur of this year or there are just many kinds of Oscar winners that have typically defined what gets to be in the Oscar race, that we just have different things now. Or they’re all strange and sounds the lambs as one where. Like Kramer vs. Kramer. It’s a huge critical hit, a huge Oscar and awards hit and a crowd pleaser, I just triple threat in that way. But also to me, Sons of the Lambs is just I watch it every year. I just think it’s a perfect piece of pop. And it’s it’s one of those like, wow, the academy. Good on you. I’d love to feel supportive of the academy for once because I was going to do something shady, like a best actor who didn’t win, who should have like Malcolm X or something. But instead, no, we’ll do Songs of the Lambs. I think it’s that’s a great movie, an extraordinary movie. And gender wise, I think like really interesting movie 1991’s. So it’s later. It’s a slightly different moment.
S9: But also I think that movies like ahead of its time in some ways and a huge turn in Jonathan Demme’s career did a weird movie in every way so we wouldn’t be in every way. I clearly remember the night that I first saw it with my boyfriend at the time, staying up basically all night, talking about it afterward. He’s just so much to say. And it was so scary that I wasn’t ready to go to sleep. And did you see it in theaters? We saw in the theater. And, you know, because it was the thing to see. And I just clearly remember that night of being so adrenalized and having so much to say about it, some of which was, you know, raving about the stuff that was great and some of it which was trying to understand the things that we didn’t understand. Yeah. Now it feels like such an unquestioned classic in everyone’s mind and sort of part of our cinematic DNA. But it felt like something so new and radical and weird that you have something that you stayed up all night talking about.
S3: Yeah. That’s that’s part of what I want to talk about because it’s just like, yeah, we’ve just internalized this movie so much. But also what you’re saying about talking about it is I think that that’s to me what best pictures or the movies that we honor should be artistically significant. And, you know, all these other things. But also, I just love the idea of a movie that people are talking about, which again, doesn’t apply to every great best picture winner because, you know, like movies like Moonlight, I mean, Moonlight made a good amount of money, but particularly after it won best picture. Whereas, yeah, this was a hit and I was up against Beauty and the Beast. Another good movie, years. I’m excited.
S9: All right. Silence of the Lambs. We should say that it’s streaming in all the normal places. You can find it on Amazon i-Tunes. You should check on your own streaming service and see if you can find a way to see it. But it should not be hard to find silence of the land. It’s always playing out in a culture somewhere. Turn on t._v.s. So yes, please watch Silence of the Lambs and come to stay up all night talking with us about it.
S1: Our producer today was Chow, too. As always, you can write us at Flashback to Slate.com if you have ideas about what we should talk about in the future. And the Austin Collins, I’m Dana Stevens. We’ll talk to.