A Man Called Otto

Tom Hanks does grumpy in A Man Called Otto, the American remake of the Oscar-nominated Swedish film called A Man Called Ove from a few years back. Though certainly not the first actor who comes to mind for a role featuring the most cantankerous old man this side of Gran Torino’s Walt Kowalski, Hanks is probably the most capable of pulling it off. And, for the most part, he does. The twist of Hanks’ counter-programming plays quite nicely in this film about the good things that can happen when people learn to change.

"plagued by too many preposterously silly characters and far-fetched circumstances to overcome any goodwill earned"


Otto (Hanks) has given up on life after the death of his wife (which we learn through flashbacks). Less than a year without her in his life, and not quite able to reconcile his grief, Otto turns to anger and despair.

In the opening scenes, we see that anger play out in Otto’s behavior as he becomes a stickler for rules, and calling anyone who doesn’t follow them an idiot. “Why can’t people separate plastic from aluminum before putting it in the recycle bins,” he mumbles. Everything anyone else does or doesn’t do, is wrong. Even UPS drivers catch the old man’s wrath. He tells them they can’t use the private access road without a permit. “You know, the others guys don’t do it. The guys with the white trucks,” he grunts. “It’s always you brown guys.” Now that’s a funny throwback reference.

Alongside Otto’s obsession with turning chaos into order is a much darker thread that snakes its way through the film and the character, as we watch Otto attempt to take his own life over and over, each effort thwarted by those idiot new neighbors moving in across the street. Though the scenes are handled with humor, they feature a largely unseen side of Hanks.

Those new neighbors are Marisol (Mariana Treviño, Perfect Strangers), her “nitwit” husband Tommy (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Greyhound), and their two adorable children. Though initially thorns in his side, Marisol and her family begin to eventually warm Otto’s heart and even get the curmudgeonly old man to open up about his late wife. Something that not only helps Marisol begin to understand Otto, but that also nudges the widower to face his grief and learn to begin living again.

Any number of actors could pull off the crustier side of Otto, but few would be as believable as Hanks in the character’s transition from grumpy to just this side of pleasant. His ability to organically grow his Otto into something new and fresh – and to feel authentic while doing it – endears his character to an audience that has been beaten over the head with incessant grouchiness.A Man Called Otto

Another of the film’s wins is the chemistry on display between Treviño and Hanks. Otto’s downward spiral into hate and dismay is perfectly countered by Marisol’s perky demeanor and dogged determination to break through her neighbor’s hardened crust. She brings him ethnic dishes and delectable home-made treats which seem to soften the man’s heart, which we learn is ironically larger than normal (eye roll) due to a birth defect.

Treviño and Hanks get plenty of screen time together. We have director Marc Forster (Finding Neverland) and screenwriter David McGee (The Life of Pi) to thank for that as the film barely manages to stay above average when the two are not on screen together. They are that strong here.

Sadly, the remainder of the film is plagued by too many preposterously silly characters and far-fetched circumstances to overcome any goodwill earned from its middle act. Even the unnamed kitty cat that finds a way into Otto’s home – and his bed – isn’t enough to get across the film’s message that preaches nobody is alone if they just open up to others.

2/5 stars

Film Details

A Man Called Otto

MPAA Rating: PG-13.
Runtime:
126 mins
Director
: Marc Forster
Writer:
David Magee
Cast:
Tom Hanks; John Higgins; Tony Bingham
Genre
: Comedy | Drama
Tagline:
Fall in love with the grumpiest man in America.
Memorable Movie Quote: "It’s always you brown guys."
Theatrical Distributor:
Sony Columbia
Official Site:
Release Date:
January 6, 2023
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:

Synopsis: Otto is a grump who's given up on life following the loss of his wife and wants to end it all. When a young family moves in nearby, he meets his match in quick-witted Marisol, leading to a friendship that will turn his world around.

Art

A Man Called Otto