A Man Called Otto Review


PLOT: A curmudgeonly widower named Otto (Tom Hanks) becomes entwined in the lives of his needy neighbors, much to his (initial) dismay.

REVIEW: Early on in A Man Called Otto, there’s a scene where Tom Hanks, as the cantankerous Otto, visits a home hardware store to buy himself some rope. He plans to go home and hang himself, but once he gets to the cash, he has a long argument about how they’re charging him for more rope than he needs. This scene is depicted as “wacky,” and it just about sums up all of the issues I have with the film. In it, Tom Hanks’s character is so depressed that we’re supposed to believe that once he gets home with this rope, he will kill himself. The way Marc Forster directs this scene and Hanks acts it, this sequence feels like something out of a sitcom, and you never, for one second, believe Otto is so depressed that suicide is a legit option for him.

Given that A Man Called Otto is a remake of a much-admired Swedish film, A Man Called Ove, which was based on a novel, one can reasonably assume the story has been done better elsewhere. One can’t fault the source material, even if the story likely lost something in the change of setting from Sweden to North America. Here, Hanks plays the curmudgeonly Otto, who’s been in a funk ever since his beloved wife died of cancer. He’s been forced into retiring from his job, and with empty days of sitting at home ahead of him without his wife, he decides to end things. However, whenever he gets ready to do the deed, he’s interrupted by his chipper new neighbour, Marisol (Mariana Treviño). Unable to drive and often needing help with her kids, the pregnant woman usually has little things she needs Otto’s help with, to his initial dismay. There’s also a cute cat that won’t leave him alone and quickly warns the old man’s heart.

For his part, Hanks seems to relish playing the grumpy Otto, but given how beloved he is, the role feels like a put-on. Hanks has this twinkle in his eye that makes Otto a lovable old guy, whereas perhaps a less beloved actor might have been better able to convey some pathos (I kept thinking Bryan Cranston would have been excellent). It’s tough because A Man Called Otto is the kind of movie that will divide an audience. It lives and dies by Hanks’ performance, and if you find yourself moved by him in it, you’ll love the movie. If, like me, you find the performance unconvincing, then the film becomes a bit of a sentimental ordeal.

The film also includes a lot of flashbacks depicting Otto’s life with his wife. In his younger years, he’s played by Hanks’ son Truman, with his wife, Sonya, played by Rachel Keller. While this is meant to evoke how profound Otto’s loss was, Sonya never emerges as a full-fledged character but comes across as impossibly saintly. She and Otto seem like a mismatched pair, and their romance feels wafer-thin, right down to the big set piece, which is scored by Kate Bush’s “This Woman’s Work” (although movie buffs will remember the song being used similarly in the underrated She’s Having a Baby). While they’re shown to have been faced with some adversity in later years, all of this is left offscreen, with Otto only recalling the early days, to the point that when Sonya appears to him late in the film, we only ever see her as a young woman.

In the end, A Man Called Otto is the kind of movie some folks will love, and some will dismiss. It hit a sour note for me right from the start, making it a tough film to surrender to. It’s sentimental in a forced way and lacks the cynical bite many have said the original has, with any rough edges sanded off on its way to becoming big-budget, awards-friendly studio fare. How you react to A Man Called Otto totally depends on whether you can go along with Hanks’ performance and, for the second time this year (after his over-the-top Colonel Parker marred the otherwise excellent Elvis), I found myself unconvinced by the mighty Tom.

A Man Called Otto



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About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.