A Man Called Otto, directed by Marc Forster, is exactly the film you think it is. Well, mostly, at least. Based on a Swedish 2012 book and 2015 film, titled A Man Called Ove, A Man Called Otto is one of those films you can see playing out exactly like you’d imagine it would.
Tom Hanks plays Otto Anderson, a widowed man forced into retirement. He has a strict routine that he prefers sticking to, and don’t get him started on leaving the gate to their road open.
But there’s a certain sadness to Otto. Having lost his wife six months earlier, Otto is keen on joining her, but his plans go awry with the arrival of new neighbours, Marisol and Tommy and their two daughters. Can they pull Otto out of his despair and bring him back to life?
Much like Father Stu, A Man Called Otto reveals most of its narrative in its trailer. Yet somehow, Forster’s film never becomes a stale watch. Perhaps that is the magic of having Tom Hanks as your lead, or maybe we’re just naturally drawn to narratives about loners who find their new families or reconnect with their old ones.
A word of warning, though, with a side of slight spoilers. A Man Called Otto is a film about a man’s desire to kill himself. The film’s aforementioned trailer sells Forster’s film as a feel-good comedy with a side order of tragedy but A Man Called Otto is surprisingly, shockingly dark at times.
In several scenes, Otto prepares to leave this mortal plane, only for his plans to be interrupted by one of his neighbours, usually Marisol. There’s nothing wrong with this; for the most part, Forster handles Otto’s depression without unnecessary sentimentalism, but a trigger warning or clearer messaging about the film’s themes would have made sense.
Hanks is obviously wonderful in the lead role. Known for reliably playing the good guy, Hanks has recently challenged himself to appear in more morally ambiguous, prickly roles, such as Colonel Tom Parker in last year’s Elvis, but Otto seems like a safe choice for Hanks.
Mariana Treviño, playing Marisol, is a revelation, though. Her sharp and witty performance plays well against Hanks’ grumpy behaviour. It’s a shame that the script, written by David Magee, is stretched too thin between the various characters on Otto’s street to ever really commit to exploring any of them in detail.
Some of this comes down to the source material. The film’s narrative is mostly dictated by the original novel, rarely changing anything. The biggest change might be that a character that was gay in the first film is now transgender. It changes very little in terms of the film’s themes or the story, except bringing much needed exposure and representation for the trans community and in the film, it’s another opportunity to show that Otto is inherently good. Otto does not discriminate who he yells at, but Hanks’ grump does show his kind side later on in the film. It’s a shame this side plot feels far too calculated to be meaningful.
A Man Called Otto ends up being far more formulaic and stale than it should be. A more courageous director would have tried to interpret the source material with something a bit more biting and resonating. Yet, there is bittersweet catharsis to be found at the very end of the film. You know exactly where it’s going and the journey there isn’t spectacularly original, but at least the payoff is sweet and tender.
A Man Called Otto is in UK cinemas 6 January.