Directed by: Marc Forster
Premise: Based on the book by Fredrik Backman. An irritable widower (Tom Hanks) lives in a gated community where he overzealously enforces the neighborhood rules. He befriends a young couple who move in across the street.
What Works: A Man Called Otto is based on the book A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman which was previously adapted into a 2015 Swedish film. The American remake retains the basic story but introduces enough new material to justify its existence. The story is relocated to the United States and set within a gated community with a cast of distinct and colorful characters. Like the 2015 movie, A Man Called Otto is a well-intentioned picture. It’s a nice story about connection and purpose and it hits those emotional buttons without becoming unnecessarily sentimental. The standout member of the cast is Mariana Treviño as Otto’s new neighbor Marisol. After a rocky start, Otto and Marisol become friends and their relationship is organic and believable and frequently funny. Otto is a curmudgeon who is hostile and withdrawn while Marisol is friendly but assertive and Tom Hanks and Mariana Treviño are an effective on-screen pair. The story is mostly linear but A Man Called Otto includes several flashbacks and the filmmakers transition effectively and artfully between time periods. Otto is haunted by the memoires of his late wife and the filmmakers have a sense of how certain locations become loaded with meaning and memories in a way that exacerbates grief.
What Doesn’t: Tom Hanks is miscast as Otto. He does a decent job in the role but Hanks is unable to be as mean and unpleasant as the material calls for. As a result, Otto’s character arc is flattened. That’s indicative of the larger flaw of this movie. Most of the edge has been removed from the material. Otto is blunt but he never does anything wrong or hurtful and he’s always right about his complaints. Otto isn’t really challenged to see the world differently and he doesn’t grow as a character. Some of his interactions and subplots don’t go anywhere, especially Otto’s relationship with a transgender teenager. The filmmakers also tend to spell out the themes and message of their story. Characters explain their feelings and the filmmakers don’t trust the audience to figure out what ought to be obvious from the drama.
Bottom Line: A Man Called Otto is a Hollywood version of this story, lacking edge or grit, but it is a nice movie and the filmmakers have come up with a version that’s fresh enough to stand on its own.
Episode: #935 (January 15, 2023)