Synopsis – A grumpy widower whose only joy comes from criticizing and judging his exasperated neighbors meets his match when a lively young family moves in next door, leading to an unexpected friendship that will turn his world upside-down.
My Take – For decades, Tom Hanks aka America’s dad has been one of the most beloved and recognizable actors across the globe. A gentleman star in the classic tradition, who usually stars in roles that typically reflect how the world views the 66-year-old legend. Mostly formidable, often heroic and always relatable. However, his latest sees him assuming a very different kind of role – one hell of a grumpy man.
A remake of the 2015 Oscar-nominated Swedish film ‘A Man Called Ove,’ which itself was adapted from the bestselling novel by Fredrik Backman, here, screenwriter David Magee (Finding Neverland, Life of Pi) and director Marc Foster (World War Z, Christopher Robin) create a risk-free, rigorously conventional adaptation that acts a perfect vehicle for Tom Hanks and company to make the most of the opportunity.
Hanks, as expected, carries the decidedly unremarkable story on his capable shoulders and creates a complex character in the midst of a tale that could have easily become formulaic and sappy. But throw in some truly funny moments in its unexpectedly witty script, and there’s just enough to make the film worth watching as a predictable yet crowd-pleasing, warm-hearted family entertainer.
With a lesser actor than Hanks, the film would suck you down into sentimental quicksand. Yes, even with Hanks, the sappy stuff is hard to hold back. But if all you’re looking for a film to watch during stressful times, this one surely delivers the goods.
The story follows Otto Anderson (Tom Hanks), an older, grumpy widower who is very set in his ways. Living in a house on a closed-off oval of a street, Otto is not just his neighborhood association’s resident crank, he’s its unofficial watchdog for everything from vehicle rules to animal control to basically whatever irritates him.
Newly jobless as a forced retiree from the auto plant, believably friendless, and completely suicidal, Otto’s life changes with the arrival of his new neighbors – a heavily pregnant Marisol (Mariana Treviño), her husband Tommy (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) and their kids. Despite the initial friction between them, he eventually become friends with Marisol who helps to revive Otto’s passion for life.
As the story unfolds you see how unhappy Otto is with life with the injustices he went through that ultimately left him alone and unloved in a cold world and wanting to leave this world. Something too many people can relate to. The film is a delightful comedy drama full of joy and hilarity, but also with moments of heartfelt emotion.
We see flashbacks of Otto’s life, as a socially awkward young man (Truman Hanks) who has lost both his parents. Thankfully, young Otto meets the lovely and loving Sonya (Rachel Keller), who understands him almost immediately and learns what a great heart he has.
Here, director Marc Foster could have found more clever and nuanced ways to convey Otto’s past relationship with his wife, thereby strengthening the film’s emotional weight when it tries to get the waterworks flowing toward the end. But the story’s frank, unflinching, and unapologetic exploration of suicide is both powerful and touching. The film and the comedic timing of its cast make for some very funny moments throughout.
Tonally, though, the script could have been more impactful if it had leaned into dark comedy rather than trying to water down Otto’s bleakest moments. Yes, it is difficult to imagine that any audience member will walk out of the film having their life changed in the way that Otto does.
But it’s hard to not be at least a little bit charmed and warmed to see Otto’s development throughout the story. Even if it doesn’t go much beyond its surface-level messages about kindness and decency, sometimes the world does need to be reminded of that.
As mentioned above, Tom Hanks does not disappoint in this role. Highlighting his comedic range while also demonstrating the deep emotional depths of a man attempting to find companionship in a world that doesn’t conform to his elevated expectations and obsession with rules. Lending an air of gravitas to what could be a startlingly pedestrian role, Hanks walks a fine line between loveable grouch and eccentric geriatric, with plenty of his trademark heart thrown in for good measure.
He is matched effortlessly by the lovely and fantastically talented Mariana Treviño, who steals every scene she is in. Her comedic timing is impeccable, her emotional scenes heartbreaking, and her performance is the lifeline of the film.
In supporting roles, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Cameron Britton, Mack Bayda, Juanita Jennings, Peter Lawson Jones, Christiana Montoya, and Alessandra Perez are a delight. While Rachel Keller and debutant Truman Hanks leave a mark in their small roles. On the whole, ‘A Man Called Otto’ is a formulaic but charming story anchored by Tom Hanks‘s central performance.
Directed – Marc Forster
Starring – Tom Hanks, Rachel Keller, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 126 minutes