A Man Called Otto is the American film adaptation of Fredrik Backman’s 2012 novel A Man Called Ove, which already received its own Swedish adaptation in 2015. Repurposing this story into a Pittsburgh-set retread starring Tom Hanks when the original does the job well enough is just one of many relics of the past that Otto and his semi-titular film share.
To be clear, A Man Called Otto is more than schmaltzy enough to win over the same crowd that followed along with Bryan Cranston and Kevin Hart some years ago in The Upside (itself an American remake). Marc Forster directed this, after all, as his previous work on Finding Neverland, Stranger than Fiction, and Christopher Robin would certainly find a comfortable spot next to Otto on your parents’ DVD shelf. There’s hardly anything inaccessible here in terms of entertainment value, aside from heavy dramatizations of suicide that the film’s marketing intentionally shies away from in order to set a certain tone. A tone that the actual film can’t quite sort out.
Otto, played by a jarringly grumpy Tom Hanks, is a retired widow living in condo-filled suburbia. The former head of the Homeowner’s Association (he was kicked out due to his prickly personality) loves machines, namely cars. And his approach to life is similarly cold and calculated. If there’s anything Otto values more than order and people following the rules, it’s hard to see what that might be during the film’s early half. Everyone’s an “idiot” to Otto, and he’s not afraid to point that out.
“Are you always this unfriendly?”
This all starts to change, however, with the arrival of new neighbors, particularly Marisol (Mariana Treviño), a seemingly mythological ray of extroverted sunshine whose existence can only be credited to the whims of the silver screen. Inch by inch, Marisol works to shake Otto out of his late-life slump by getting him to babysit her kids, cooking him food he’s never tried before, and even convincing him to teach her to drive stick.
It’s not hard to see what kind of movie A Man Called Otto is and will become from the very start, but like the novel and previous adaptation, the journey is supposed to be more compelling than the destination. The difference with Otto over Ove, however, mostly comes down to the miscasting of Tom Hanks, who has played a variety of roles over the years, sure enough, but his heel turn from Mr. Rogers to Otto Anderson is both abrupt and oddly uninspired. We have no choice but to assume that Robert De Niro simply didn’t pick up the phone for this one.
It’s hard to truly see the heart of the Otto character behind Hanks’ technically dead-on performance. And the entire movie suffers under the constant reminder that this adaptation is inherently limited in what it can accomplish for many if not most people watching. Though to be fair, this story must have some enduring quality, as it apparently has more lives than the stray cat Otto begrudgingly puts up with.
The bottom line.
There’s no question that even in 2023, more than a decade since the novel came out, people are more isolated and in their own worlds than ever. And this basic story of found family and working up the courage to build community with people in close proximity is certainly worthy of this type of mid-budget, low-stakes exercise in counter-programming.
Seriously, it’s fine and great to see movies like this coming out in an environment where flicks for adults are hard to come by, though in some ways, it’s not wild to guess that Columbia wants people to think this is an all-ages movie despite some of its sharp depictions of attempted suicide without any fair warning. But in the most general sense, parents should find it easy enough to decide whether or not their young kids can handle a story like this, since virtually everything else in it practically screams FreeForm television.
A Man Called Otto opens in select theaters on January 6 and nationwide on January 13. Watch the trailer here.
Featured image courtesy of Columbia Pictures.
A MAN CALLED OTTO - 5/10