A Man Called Otto is the English-language remake of the hit Swedish film A Man Called Ove, adapted from the book of the same name by Fredrick Backman. Starring the ever-dependable Tom Hanks, this looked like it’d be a fun comedy about a grouchy old man, but instead, it’s an incredibly heart-warming and sad tale with a decent amount of humour thrown in.
Hanks is Otto Anderson, a grumpy old man living alone on a private residential street in Pittsburgh following the death of his wife Sonya (Rachel Keller). We first meet him in a local hardware store, arguing with the store assistant when he wants to buy 5 feet of rope and it can only be sold in quantities of 3 feet. Later we see Otto as he patrols his neighbourhood; cleaning up after other residents who can’t recycle properly, chasing away unauthorised vehicles and stray cats and being rude to his neighbours as he passes them on the street.
Otto retires from his job after being pushed into taking a severance package, and on his return home that day he fashions the rope into a noose and attaches it to his living room ceiling. Before he can go through with killing himself, he’s disturbed by a new family moving in across the street. He storms across to confront Tommy (Manual Garcia-Rulfo) and his pregnant wife Marisol (Mariana Treviño) as they’re failing to parallel park a trailer, insulting them before parking the trailer himself.
Despite Otto’s grumpy demeanour, Marisol and Tommy thank him for his help and bring him food in exchange for DIY assistance. Elsewhere Otto has to contend with a stray cat who won’t leave him alone, his neighbour Jimmy’s (Cameron Britton) chats as he walks about the street and next-door neighbour Anita (Juanita Jennings) as she struggles to look after ailing husband Reuben (Peter Lawson Jones), who Otto previously had a feud with.
Thanks to the dogged persistence of Marisol who ignores Otto’s grumpiness and matches his rudeness with her kindness and fieriness, Otto’s repeated suicide attempts are consistently thwarted and he increasingly finds himself drawn into the lives of his neighbours and those around him, as we find out more about his past.
I knew little about this film other than a brief glimpse of the trailer, to the point where I hadn’t even realised it was based on a book and Swedish film until the opening credits rolled. I went into this for the ever-reliable Tom Hanks and I was not disappointed. This is my first cinema visit of 2023 and I couldn’t have asked for better. I’d be surprised if any film in 2023 could make me feel as emotional and sentimental as this film did. It’s so full of heart and grief that I spent most of the 2-hour runtime alternating between laughter and being close to tears. The humour is often subtle and while not all of it lands, there were many moments where I genuinely laughed out loud. Directed by Marc Forster (Christopher Robin, World War Z), it’s a very well-made film and there are a lot of subtleties that are nice to see, especially changes to Otto’s environment and outward appearance as the film progresses and his demeanour changes too.
There are some moments however where the flashbacks to Otto’s younger life (featuring Hanks’ own son Truman as the younger Otto) detract a little from the main story. While they’re incredibly heart-warming, they do slow the pace noticeably, especially as this film shines whenever Tom Hanks is on screen. As expected he puts in a fantastic performance, playing away from his usual type and making us like such a grumpy yet ultimately kind-hearted character. He’s helped by a brilliant supporting ensemble cast who all excel, although the most notable is Mariana Treviño whose passionate and upbeat Marisol is a brilliant foil to Otto’s grumpiness. I would argue that I would’ve liked to have seen more of Cameron Britton, but that’s my only gripe about the casting.
While I’ve read that this isn’t a patch on the Swedish original, I can’t judge and can only say that this version is the most touching and heart-warming film I’ve seen in quite a long time. It’s not perfect but for me, it’s not far from it and is a great start to 2023. Yet more proof, even though we didn’t need it, of the talents and sheer watchability of Tom Hanks.
A contract manager moonlighting as a rather discerning film and book critic, with an almost fangirl appreciation for anything made by Christopher Nolan. When I’m not catching up on my latest read or watch, you can usually find me trying out my amateur baking skills – Bake Off here I come!