Otto is a grump who's given up on life following the loss of his wife and wants to end it all. When a young family moves in nearby, he meets his match in quick-witted Marisol, leading to a friendship that will turn his world around. (adapted from IMDB)
You may love him or hate him, but it's kind of safe to say the Tom Hanks has kind of become an American cinematic treasure. From headlining many classic 80's and 90's rom-coms and/or family films, to voicing Woody in the Toy Story series, and even starring as American heroes in movies like Forest Gump and Saving Private Ryan, Hanks has worked his way into many moviegoers' hearts. Heck, he's even played Walt Disney and Mr. Rogers in recent years. However, A Man Called Otto introduces a different kind of character for Tom Hanks, the kind of grumpy, callous, rude and prickly older man that actors like Clint Eastwood and Tommy Lee Jones have become known for. A Man Called Otto is based on a popular Swedish book called A Man Called Ove, which was also already made into a movie with the same title in 2015. But with Hanks starring, producing and even enlisting the talents of one of his sons, the cinematic superstar translates the story for the American audience.
Now, I haven't read the book and I haven't seen the 2015 film, so all I really have to go on for this story is Hanks' version. In the film, A Man Called Otto, Hanks plays Otto Anderson, a grumpy, bitter, unfriendly older man who lives alone in a small, tightly-knit community. Things suddenly change dramatically for him when a sweet hispanic family moves in across the street from Otto and attempt to befriend him. But as Otto resists their kindness, we discover that this bellidgerent old coot is actually so depressed that he intends to take his own life. And when his attempt at hanging himself fails, he tries other different horrible ways to kill himself. The movie quickly proves to hardly be the feel-good comedy about a grumpy Tom Hanks that the trailer teased. Sure, there are some funny moments in A Man Called Otto, but they are infrequent, and the movie ends up being primarily a dramatic tale about loss and how to overcome it to continue on with life after suffering such trauma.
As we try to understand the reason for Otto's cranky behavior, we witness quite a few flashbacks to a young Otto, played by Tom's real-life son, Truman, from the time he meets his wife-to-be Sonya, on through the early years of their marriage. It sort of feels like two completely different movies, too, as sometimes we linger much longer in the flashbacks than you might expect. This is also where the movie gets an Ebenezer Scrooge vibe. In many instances, Otto is remembering his youth and the beautiful young Sonya, taking us back to the past with him. In A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens shows us how Scrooge evolved from a sweet young man to the miser he becomes in his old age, and here we get a similar progression for Otto. Oddly enough, however, the story never shows us an aged version of Sonya, with all of her flashbacks taking place at the beginning of their courtship. Except for briefly seeing Otto holding an elderly woman's hand briefly, Otto is only shown remembering his wife young. It feels a little odd that most of their marriage together is left untouched.
Aside from the heavy theme of suicide with multiple attempts shown in detail during the movie, there's also a vehicular accident shown that results in a character's hospitalization and the loss of a pregnancy. It's just yet another weighty piece of this PG-13 film, which possibly may have been better off being rated R due to the significant amount of screentime devoted to suicide. (The only saving grace for this is a very short note of encouragement at the beginning of the end credits that urges anyone struggling with suicide to get help.) Another unexpected plot point comes when Otto runs into a young teen delivering newspapers who immediately gets under Otto's skin. But when they meet again later, the teen volunteers that she is transgender and Otto's wife was the first school teacher to call her by her new name as a boy, Malcolm. And if you might expect this to be the end of the agenda pushing, Malcolm later shows up at Otto's place after Malcolm's dad threw her out of the house. And after Malcolm tells Otto that her father is ashamed of her new identity, the seemingly all-around intolerant Otto is quick to defend Malcolm by branding the father as an "idiot." This alone is a loaded topic, and one that really has no room for this movie and its theme, but not surprisingly, Hollywood just continues to try to normalize things like gender-swapping. It's really disappointing that the filmmakers felt the need to shoehorn it into the movie. It just does not fit.
Sadly, while Hanks does a good job as Otto, I'm afraid he's probably miscast here. Sure, it's out of his comfort zone and a different role for him so it gives him a chance to show off a different side of his acting chops, but at the same time, it's bizarre to see Tom Hanks try to kill himself... and several times, mind you. It makes the story feel that much darker and even unsettling. Also, his son Truman is clearly not the best actor. His peformance is dry and maybe a little wooden, and it's hard to believe his version of Otto was a young version of Tom's Otto.
On the other hand, the ladies of the film are the true bright lights in the production. Mariana Treviņo is wonderful as the persistent and lovable Marisol, who won't give up on showing love and compassion to Otto. She gives a lively and well-rounded performance. And Rachel Keller's performance as Sonya is lovely, too. She's sweet and warm, and it's easy to see why Otto not only fell in love with her, but wouldn't want to keep living life without her. And, admittedly, even if this isn't the right role for Hanks, he's still mostly enjoyable to watch (the clown confrontation scene is gold). He just has a great on screen presence - even when he's kind of being a jerk.
Obviously, the content for the movie isn't the lightest. Profanity is infrequent, but there are several uses of the "S" word, some blasphemy, and a bunch of other cuss words. And while several suicide attempts are depicted on screen, there isn't anything graphic seen. The aforementioned vehicular accident is pretty rough, and we see some bloody cuts and bruises on victims afterward. There are plenty of other emotional moments, including the finale, and then we have the previously-mentioned transgender character that the movie attempts to show as a normality. To the movie's credit, its core theme is finding meaning in life beyond the loss, and rediscovering a purpose for living. The importance of community is also promoted, so the team behind Otto definitely tries to make the best out of the heavy material. Still, it may be too little too late, as the movie really is kind of a downer, and I'm not sure its attempt at an upbeat resolution is enough to undo the glum nature of the two hours preceding it.
Again, I'm not sure how A Man Called Otto stacks up against the book or the 2015 film, but on its own, Otto is an uneven drama that is short on the laughs and long on the weighty drama. Maybe diehard Tom Hanks fans will get the most out of the movie, but this is certainly not a family movie, and is otherwise a downer that is probably better to be passed on than anything.- John DiBiase (reviewed: 2/12/23)
Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not exclusively on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion and experience of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's overall rating.
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