Tom Hanks has graced our screens for as long as I can remember. Comedy is his forte, and as we’ve seen him age gracefully, his dramatic flair has surfaced, usually playing the hero of a story. In Marc Forster’s A Man Called Otto, he plays the anti-hero with a heart.
Based on Fredrik Backman’s novel and Hannes Holm’s 2015 film, A Man Called Ove, screenwriter David Magee, and director Forster rename the character and pepper the goings-on with flashbacks that fill in the character’s history for this reimagining of a curmudgeon. Hanks plays Otto Anderson, a widower with a chip on his shoulder. Otto is rough around the edges, gruff to others, constantly calling them “idiots” if they don’t meet his stringent standards. David Magee plays Otto’s story without letting on what has Otto in such a tizzy right at the movie’s beginning. Forster and Magee give the audience time to ingest Otto.
As with Ove, Otto introduces two characters who will eventually ingrain themselves into Otto’s life: Marisol, lovingly played by Mariana Treviño, and her hapless but well-meaning husband, Tommy (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), and their kids.
If you’ve seen A Man Called Ove, you know how A Man Called Otto will go. There are marked differences between the two films; Forster and Hanks found a way to evoke an emotional response out of the Americanized version of the story through the way Hanks and Treviño play off each other in their respective roles. It will surely bring tears to your eyes as Forster keeps the emotional beats from Backman’s novel intact, and Otto slowly lets his guard down.
Magee focuses his energies in the script on how generations go about their lives – Otto’s generation is self-sufficient, understanding math, how to back up a car, and how to drive. The next generation has learned to borrow, to observe, yet they care in their own way. Other beats focus on these generational differences, one involving Mack Bayda’s Malcolm, which I hope you’ll discover in a film that made my Honorable Mentions of 2022.
Why did it make my Honorable Mentions list? The moments where Otto realizes that he still has life left in him, he still has things to do, and a cat to care for are where A Man Called Otto shines and where Hanks continues to surprise us, just as Otto surprises us, so check your cynicism at the box office window.
The real key to A Man Called Otto’s success lies in the flashbacks to Otto’s history, why he becomes the curmudgeon he is, and why he must ultimately relent in his ways. In these flashbacks, Hanks’ son, Truman, plays a younger version of Otto as we meet Otto’s future love and the tragedy that befell them.
Even with these beats, the cynic in me appreciated A Man Called Ove more than A Man Called Otto. That happens when there’s a gallant effort to remake a film. However, in both movies, each has a different lesson, and the way they go about their sensibilities separates them. Both films are saccharine delights.
If you haven’t seen Holm’s film, then A Man Called Otto is a genuine surprise, and Hanks and company will have done their work. If you have seen the original movie and are not a cynic, there is much to appreciate in Forster’s take. Finally, if you’re a cinematic curmudgeon like Otto or Ove, well then all I can say is . . . “Idiot!”
126 mins, PG-13, Columbia Pictures