A Man Called Otto – Film Review

Otto (Tom Hanks) shuffles up and down the private residential street grumpily going about his chores. He makes sure everyone has their parking permits displayed clearly and sorts the trash. The world is full of idiots and it’s his job to keep things running correctly, but sadly he has had enough.

‘A Man Called Otto’ is the story of a grizzled widower who has given up on living. Following the death of his wife and forced retirement, he has lost the willpower to go on. As he plans to end things, he is interrupted by new neighbours the extremely pregnant Marisol (Mariana Treviño), the extremely inept Tommy (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), and their two daughters.

As they struggle to reverse a trailer, Otto takes over what he sees as a simple task and before he knows it, he is a part of their lives. The ever-friendly Marisol begins to warm his heart and insists on breaking through the walls Otto has put up. With the help of his new friends and some old ones, Otto discovers that maybe there is still some living to be done yet.

I generally have a prejudice against English language remakes as I feel movies already are universally accessible. Based on the best-selling Swedish novel ‘A Man Called Ove’ by Fredrick Backman and original film by Hannes Holm, this remake is at least up front about it. Here, director Marc Forster and writer David Magee adapt the story for English speaking audiences with a familiar lead in Hanks. Some subtleties are lost in translation however, while others are ramped up to eleven as A Man Called Otto attempts to reach a wider audience. I think the major disconnect is the gallows suicide humour conflicting with the overly sentimental moments of the film. 

For what the movie gets wrong, it gets a lot right, particularly with its casting of Otto. Despite playing against type, Hanks fits the role like a glove and it’s impossible not to have a soft spot for Otto thanks to Tom Hanks‘ loveable nature. 

Hanks’ youngest son, Truman plays Otto in his youth and I appreciated that he is given room to shine with no awkward voice dubbing gimmicks. Having range of his own, he helps us see how such a gentle soul became the nasty old curmudgeon that Otto turned into.

The film’s true breakout star however would be Treviño as the outspoken and fiery Marisol. Stealing many scenes from Hanks, Treviño brings a manic energy to the role and in her own way, she endears us to a character which in the wrong hands could have come off as unbearable.

Through their on-screen father/daughter-like chemistry, Treviño and Hanks share Otto‘s reinvigorated lust for life and it is believable. In helping Marisol, we can see why Otto would want to start helping people he initially considered not to be worth his time.

I’m a little let down that more isn’t done with the character of Tommy, however. Garcia-Rulfo is a likeable actor, and he plays the part of a loveable dope well but clearly Tommy needs help being an ‘adult’. While Otto is more than happy to dish out this guidance to others, Tommy is little more than the butt of jokes.

I also wish there were more auxiliary characters or simply background extras in play. Otto‘s neighbourhood is a cozy tight-knit little community, but he only ever runs into the same 5 or 6 people every day. Beyond that, the street is deserted and as a result, it feels like an artificial set.

A Man Called Otto is a heartfelt sentimental movie about learning to be there for others. While the film’s humour can come off as crass at times its message is important for individuals who are going through hard times. Mariana Treviño and the always delightful Tom Hanks make us smile as they tug at our heartstrings. Despite my usual distain for remakes, I can’t deny I had a lot of fun with this movie and would recommend it, as well as the original, to others.

A Man Called Otto will be in cinemas from January 1st 2023.

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