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Ted and Joanna Kramer, Fischoff thought, were like Benjamin and Elaine in 10 years later, after their impulsive union has collapsed from the inside.The movie would be a kind of generational marker, tracking the baby-boomers from the heedlessness of young adulthood to the angst of middle adulthood.Meryl spoke with her mother, who told her, “All my friends at one point or another wanted to throw up their hands and leave and see if there was another way of doing their lives.”She sat in a playground in Central Park and watched the Upper East Side mothers with their perambulators, trying to outdo one another. She thought about Joanna Kramer—who after the movie came out, “the more I felt the sensual reason for Joanna’s leaving, the emotional reasons, the ones that aren’t attached to logic. In contrast to most films, they would shoot the scenes in order, the reason being their seven-year-old co-star.As she soaked in the atmosphere—muted traffic noises, chirping birds—she thought about the “dilemma of how to be a woman,” she said later, “how to be a mother, all the gobbledygook about ‘finding yourself.’ ” Most of her friends were actors in their late 20s who didn’t have children, women at their peak career potential, which, paradoxically, was the height of their baby-making potential. To make the story real to Justin, they would tell him only what was happening that day, so he could it, which would inevitably come off as phony.No one was yet calling people like the Kramers “yuppies,” but their defining neuroses were already in place.Jaffe took the novel to the director Robert Benton, best known for co-writing On the first day of principal photography, everything was hushed on the Twentieth Century Fox soundstage at 54th Street and 10th Avenue in Manhattan.The problem is Joanna Kramer, who finds motherhood, by and large, “boring.” She starts taking tennis lessons. About 50 pages in, Joanna informs Ted that she’s “suffocating.” She’s leaving him, and she’s leaving Billy.
The blond, cherubic Justin Henry hadn’t seemed right to Dustin, who wanted a “funny-looking kid” who looked like him.
The ensuing custody battle, which gives the novel its title, lays bare the ugliness of divorce proceedings and the wounds they allow people to inflict on each other.