"A Man Called Otto" stars Tom Hanks, Mariana Treviño, Rachel Keller, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Cameron Britton, and Mike Birbiglia. Released in limited theaters on December 30, 2022, followed by a wide release on January 13, 2023, the film has a grumpy man forming an unlikely friendship with his new neighbors.
The film was directed by Marc Forster, who also directed films such as "Monster's Ball", "Stranger than Fiction", "World War Z", and "Christopher Robin". It is based on the 2012 novel A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman. We all have moments where we feel cranky, either out of depression or people being buttheads to us. It's moments like these that make us want to end our suffering as soon as possible. But if we hold on to our lives just a bit longer, we may regain something worth living for. Last weekend brought us a couple of remakes that lured in different audiences, one of which is an American remake of a 2015 Swedish adaptation of Backman's novel. Given how beloved the 2015 adaptation was regarding its reception and Oscar nominations, it's unsurprising that Hollywood wants to retell it again for American audiences. Besides, Hollywood has done it plenty of times with middling results. Will this film suffer the same fate, or does it have enough surprises in its sentimental plot to keep us from feeling grumpy? Let's find out.
The story centers on a 60-year-old widower named Otto Anderson (Hanks), who recently retired from a steel company. After losing his wife, Sonya (Keller), six months previously, Otto considers killing himself. However, during one of his suicide attempts, Otto is interrupted by his new neighbors: Marisol (Treviño), Tommy (Garcia-Rulfo), and their two daughters, Abbie (Alessandra Perez) and Luna (Christiana Montoya). While getting acquainted with his neighbors, Otto experiences flashbacks to his past, forcing him to rediscover his once-lost happiness.
The movie marks the second time I was introduced to the source material. The first time was in 2015 when I recognized "A Man Called Ove" while watching the 89th Academy Awards. Yes, I still watch the Oscars annually. What else would I be doing during my spare time? I haven't actually watched the 2015 movie from Sweden, but considering it got nominated for Best Foreign Language Film and Best Makeup and Hairstyling, it must've been good enough for me to reconsider in the future. Until then, I might as well use the English adaptation as a starting point.
"A Man Called Otto" may seem like a harmless comedy about Tom Hanks being a grouch for two hours straight on paper. However, it's actually more of a light-hearted drama that covers some serious topics, mainly depression and suicide. While there are moments when the movie does provide some chuckles, it also makes you understand that these issues are no laughing matter. Plus, it isn't afraid to make people cry, especially those who have dealt with or are still dealing with depression today. So make sure you bring tissues for this one because it will be a doozy. Also, if you're planning on taking your kids to this film, be sure to talk to them about its themes before and after exposing them to Tom Hanks committing suicide for two hours.
The story itself is a tried-and-true tale about grief and loss, with Otto reeling from the loss of his wife and hopes to join her in death. However, he gets a wake-up call from life after befriending his new neighbors and recollecting his past. The movie depicts the man's journey to rediscover what it means to live and make peace with the life he's living, even though he's surrounded by idiots. Films like these have come around often to generate tears from audiences without relying on artsy filmmaking. Most of them have succeeded in being feel-good and well-executed heartstring tuggers, while some relied too heavily on their sentimentality that it made specific viewers cringe or barf with their cheesiness. "A Man Called Otto" is a decent example of the former, as it delivered a heartwarming and charismatic portrait of its themes and scenarios.
I wouldn't be quick to call it a perfect adaptation of the Swedish novel, though. Despite having the heart in the right place, the movie has some issues regarding the narrative that kept it from being an authentic tear-jerking experience. It does feel a bit bare-bones when it comes to representing its mature topics and characters. That's not to say it has to be R-rated to make it great, as the teen-rated version of its themes is admirable for the most part. It's that it doesn't have a lot of moments that stick with me after the credits roll, aside from the humor. There's also the pacing and editing, both of which were a tad awkward and rushed in specific sequences, including the finale. Aside from those flaws, director Marc Forster managed to add plenty of heart and charm to its familiar plot while providing happy tears to a respectable degree.
Forster has proven himself to be a confident filmmaker in the drama department, especially when he attempts to add charisma and emotion into the mix, with "A Man Called Otto" being an example of that. But, of course, he's not the only person who knows how to inject those elements into their craft. Yes, even the great Tom Hanks knows how to impress audiences with his talent. This is another film that sees Hanks playing a different character outside of his usual likable personas in years past. The result is what you'd expect from the actor, with Hanks delivering a captivating performance as the imitating yet caring Otto. It shows that Hanks is still as charismatic as ever, even as the grumpiest man in the suburbs. Then, you have the supporting cast, which made a solid effort to keep up with Hanks. Mariana Treviño did a good job with her performance as Marisol regarding her humor and emotion. Manuel Garcia-Rulfo also followed suit with his role as Tommy, and the kid actors as Abby and Luna were unsurprisingly adorable.
Overall, "A Man Called Otto" is a charming and unapologetically sentimental comedy-drama that'll likely warm many people's hearts, even the grumpy ones. It doesn't break any new ground with its themes and presentation, but in a case like this, it doesn't have to. Its goal was to provide a simple and inspiring experience that makes audiences feel grateful about life and the people they spend it with. Regarding its direction, Marc Forster and the crew were barely able to accomplish that objective. Tom Hanks was as lovable as he's always been, and the heartfelt moments were admirable despite some minor issues with the pacing and editing. Because of my experience, I would gladly look at the 2015 adaptation sometime and see how the two compare. If you're a fan of Tom Hanks and feel-good movies, this one's definitely worth checking out, but leave your crabbiness behind while doing so.