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  • Writer's pictureSaxon Whitehead

'A Man Called Otto': Tom Hanks Gets Grumpy in Charming Crowdpleaser

It can often be refreshing to see an actor play against type, as it provides a change of pace from their usual stuff. This could come in the form of typically comedic actors taking on more dramatic roles, or more serious minded actors taking on lighter, sillier roles. However, what I find most fascinating is when an actor plays a role that is different from their cultural persona. So when someone who is seen as warm and fatherly like Tom Hanks takes on the role of a curmudgeon, I can't help but be curious. This brings us to A Man Called Otto, the American remake of the Swedish film, A Man Called Ove. I'm always a little leery of American remakes of international films, and I was worried that this film might sand some of the edges of the original film in order to make it appeal to a more mainstream audience. While I would definitely categorize this as a crowdpleaser, it does retain the heart of the original film, as well as the novel it is based on, and it moved me more than I was expecting it to.

The film centers on Otto Anderson (Tom Hanks), a 63 year old widower living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Otto has recently been forced into retirement, and busies himself by enforcing various policies in his neighborhood and visiting his wife's grave. He is grumpy, confrontational, and lives a lonely existence. However, when a new family moves in across the street, a new friendship is sparked that will change Otto's life.

There is a fair amount of schmaltz throughout this film, but it is balanced by the heavier aspects of the story, as well as the emotionality of the character of Otto. The lighter aspects of the film do feel more heightened for American audiences, which is kind of necessary as the film has a darker edge to it that would make it more distressing if it wasn't there. It does lead to some moments that are melodramatic, but the film does have a bit of depth to it, which helps it feel more substantial. As an adaptation, screenwriter David Magee does a good job of translating this story for mainstream American audiences, as there is a certain universality to what the film explores. Ideas of grief, connection, loneliness, and mental health are all things that we can connect to with human. These themes may be laid on a little thick, but it does help the film out more than I would have guessed. If nothing else, the heartfelt nature of the film helps the film soar a little, and the story it tells should ring true with many.

That being said, the film does struggle with some of its plotlines. Everything comes together quite well in the end, but the road to get there is a bumpy one. The film makes a few jarring tonal shifts and there are certain plot points that feel a bit hamfisted. There is a way to handle these moments that would have felt more natural, but this film is a bit clumsy in how in broaches them. Admittedly, the film does find its groove in most of these moments, but quite a few of them are presented in such a strange way. Furthermore, a few plot elements, namely ones that involve some of Otto's neighbors, as well as some that involve a real estate company, feel rushed. The film is at its best when it is fully focused on Otto as a character, but when the film branches out a little, it does feel somewhat distracted.

Perhaps the element that contributes the most to what this film does well and what it struggles with is its director, Marc Forster. Forster is more of a journeyman director, and much of his output has been hit or miss. However, he has a sturdy hand as a filmmaker, so even his lesser work isn't all that bad. With Otto, he is able to make the film run smoothly, but it doesn't do anything particularly daring either. While this does make it a little bland, at least from a technical perspective, it does allow the story to speak for itself a little more, which makes for a more emotionally resonant film. I do wish the film would have taken a few chances in terms of style, but I can't complain too much given how touching the rest of it is.

Tom Hanks's performance is undoubtedly what is going to draw most people to this movie, and I must say that he does not disappoint. I wouldn't go as far as putting it up there with his best work or anything, but it is still a pretty good performance overall. The gruffness that he brings to the character sets up Otto's hardened, grouchy nature perfectly from the moment he first appears on screen, and Hanks's natural likability makes it to where you can't help but feel for him. Hanks allows the sadness and anger of Otto to wash over him, but he knows the right moments to let his warmth peek out a little. However, the real MVP of the film is Mariana Treviño, who plays Otto's new neighbor, Marisol. This is the first thing I've ever seen Treviño in, and I was quite impressed by her. She has such a great screen presence, and her scenes with Hanks are some of the film's biggest highlights. A scene where Hanks is teaching her how to drive is one of the best parts of the film, and Treviño's work in this scene is a major part of why it works so well. I definitely want to see more from her, as she is quite talented. I also would be remiss if I didn't bring up Mack Bayda, who plays Malcolm, a trans teenager who knew Otto's wife. Bayda isn't in all that much of the film, but I really appreciated his performance. I'd argue that his character is a little underwritten, but he breathes so much life into the role that it makes up for it.

The technical aspects are fine, but I wasn't particularly blown away by any of it. Some of the editing is a little wonky, and is distracting in some of the film's more serious scenes. The cool color palette that the bulk of the film has is pretty nice, however, and the camerawork isn't half bad either. I was a little let down by the score, as I generally like Thomas Newman's work. This feels like he's phoning it in, and save for maybe one motif, is pretty forgettable.

A Man Called Otto is rather flawed, but it's one of those films that I can't be too mad at. It is so touching, and has a lot of heart, and will undoubtedly strike a chord with many. The performances from Tom Hanks and Mariana Treviño are quite solid, and the story truly carries the bulk of the film. This is an undeniable crowdpleaser, and is equally sad and upliftling. It's the type of mainstream movie that has been largely absent from multiplexes over the past few years, so it's nice to see something like it again. It may lack in some areas, but it does pack an emotional punch, and it is a film that audiences will find surprisingly charming.

Rating: 3/5

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