A MAN CALLED OTTO (2023)
Starring Tom Hanks, Mariana Treviño, Rachel Keller, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Truman Hanks, Cameron Britton, Mike Birbiglia, Mack Bayda, Juanita Jennings, Peter Lawson Jones, Christiana Montoya, Alessandra Perez, Max Pavel, Kailey Hyman, Josephine Valentina Clark, John Higgins, Tony Bingham, Lily Kozub, Julian Manjerico and Bodhi Wilson.
Screenplay by David Magee.
Directed by Marc Forster.
Distributed by Sony Pictures Releasing. 126 minutes. Rated PG-13.
Hollywood has a long history of taking popular foreign films and moving them to the States, often oversimplifying and somewhat homogenizing them in the name of “Americanization.”
The main character has a different first name in Tom Hanks’ version of Hannes Holm’s 2005 comedy-drama A Man Called Ove – which itself was based on Fredrik Backman’s 2012 best-selling novel. And while A Man Called Otto is not as good as the earlier film, it’s not all that far behind.
Yes, A Man Called Otto has a huge sentimental streak (so did the original and the novel), and yes, sometimes the plotting is a bit overly convenient. And while sometimes sentimentality is off-putting in a film when it starts to feel manipulative – it often is for me – sometimes it just depends on whether you buy in to the characters and situations.
A Man Called Otto worked for me.
It is an interesting piece of casting, choosing the famously affable Tom Hanks to play an angry curmudgeon, the kind of guy who you would tend to try to avoid – which would suite him just fine. Hanks mostly pulls it off pretty well, although you do sort of tend to see a little playful tinkle in the actor’s eyes when he is saying and doing things that are particularly anti-social. (Rolf Lassgård felt a bit more naturally grounded in the same part for the 2015 film, but that is possibly because he doesn’t carry Hanks’ pop cultural baggage, at least not in the US.)
Despite its tendency towards a bit of sappiness, it does revolve around a very serious, very dark concept. In fact, before seeing Otto, I wondered if they would downplay or erase this thread, and to the filmmakers’ credit, they did not blink on the subject. Otto is an aging widower who has decided to kill himself to reunite in the afterlife with his late beloved wife, the only person in the world that – as the film puts it – brought color to his life.
It’s not easy to make a comedy about suicide.
The running gag – if you can really have a running gag about attempting suicide – is that Otto is always interrupted in the middle of the act by the petty realities and annoyances of life.
As the film begins, Otto’s life is nothing but a series of petty realities and annoyances.
Otto is a very basic, rules-following, hard-working and grumpy man. His wife had died six months earlier. He has recently been sort of forced to retire – it’s okay, he never liked the job anyway – but now he has little to occupy his time. He keeps a watch on his little prefab neighborhood, reminding his neighbors of rules and transgressions like cleaning up after their dog, not using the street as a through street, correctly sorting recyclables and parking their bikes in the proper place.
The only thing he has which would be considered a social life is regularly visiting his wife in the cemetery and getting into arguments with retail employees who want to charge him for six feet of rope when he only needs five. (The fact that the difference is only $0.33 doesn’t matter – it’s the principle of the thing.) He also spends much of his time remembering his past – Hanks’ son Truman plays young Otto in these regular flashbacks – with his beloved Sonya (Rachel Keller).
His life changes when a Mexican family moves in across the street, particularly the vivacious and hugely pregnant mother of two named Marisol – played by Mariana Treviño in a star-making performance in which she goes head-to-head with Hanks and always comes out shining. He also feels a grudging liking for her two adorable young daughters. (He thinks the dad is an idiot, though.)
Marisol pulls Otto out of his cocoon and a series of inconveniences – a stray cat, an old friend and rival possibly being forced out of their home, driving lessons, the strained family life of the local paper deliverer (a transgender former student of Sonya’s) all delay his plans for death.
Will Otto actually find a new reason to live?
As I said before, A Man Called Otto is occasionally manipulative and can be a tiny bit sappy. And yet I bought in to it. If you are willing to give yourself in to Otto’s world, then A Man Called Otto has much to offer.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2023 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: January 5, 2023.