Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Meryl Streep, Justin Henry (his debut), Jane Alexander
Director: Robert Benton
Summary: When his wife leaves him, an ad exec gets a crash course in parenting
Other Nominations: Director*, Actor (Hoffman)*, Supporting Actor (Henry), Supporting Actress (Streep)*, Supporting Actress (Alexander), Adapted Screenplay*, Cinematography, Film Editing
I thought the performances all-around were really good, even if some of my Oscar choices would have been different. There’s definitely a lot of realism in the performances, especially Henry (with one of the most natural performances for an 8 year-old I’ve seen) and Streep (who’s great, but in no way is a supporting actress and shouldn’t have gotten nominated for the category). Hoffman is good too, and his average guy, unglamorous quality helps him here a lot.
As for the screenplay, I thought it was hit-or-miss and it feels very mechanical-everything is predictable (at least until the very end) and you can see what all the character arcs are going to be from the outset. With that said, I thought the execution was solid, with the character growth for both parents feeling well-done. The premise of a movie about a single-dad due to a divorce was novel back then and credit has to be given for that, and even now most movies about divorce and child custody usually focus on the mother.
The one thing people say about this movie is that it does a really good job of being balanced and fair to both parents without any obvious answers as to who’s right and wrong, and I would only sort of agree with that. The courtroom scenes help a lot to make Streep’s character much more sympathetic than the other scenes did, but she still wants custody of a child she abandoned, doesn’t seem reliable and her creepy stalker bit doesn’t help. The fact that the movie is told completely from Hoffman’s perspective also reinforces the idea that we’re much more likely to side with Hoffman.
Overall: Good performances and a then-novel premise made it a hit back in the day, but most of the story felt predictable and while it gave both parents depth, I didn’t feel like it was really that balanced.