A Man Called Otto is saved by Tom Hanks, just.
3 out of 5
Here's the thing, Tom Hanks can pretty much do no wrong. For me, his new film, A Man Called Otto is as close to a mis-step as I've seen in a long time from the maestro. The film is based on Frederick Bachman's 2012 delightful book A Man Called Ove which I read at the time and really loved. In 2015 Hannes Holm directed the film of the book which I saw and also enjoyed. It was nominated for two Academy Awards and was the highest grossing foreign film of 2016 in the United States so it was only a matter of time before Hollywood picked it up and remade it. The story goes that Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson were watching the 2015 film during Covid 19 lockdown and she prompted him to look at making it for a wider audience.
Fast forward to 2023 and one of the first cinema releases in this neck of the woods is Hanks' remake. No stranger to adapting beloved novels, director Marc Forster (The Kite Runner, Monster's Ball, Finding Neverland) has taken the source material and relocated the story to the United States. Here we find Ove is now Otto but the basic essence of the story remains the same. Otto has been widowed and in his desperation, he wants to join his wife. Cue several scenes which may be upsetting for some as Otto tries to end his life. The humour here is very dark as his various attempts to take his life are interrupted by the minutiae of everyday life. In the screening I attended some folk were roaring with laughter but I found it heart-aching rather than laugh-out-loud-funny. The other, and main aspect of Otto's character is that he is fastidious in following rules, ensuring others follow rules and he generally regards everyone else as an idiot.
We see Otto attending an enforced retirement party, policing his neighbourhood to ensure people recycle correctly, arguing with a shop assistant over buying rope. It's funny at a superficial level but tragic at a deeper level. Enter Marisol, played with gusto by Mariana Trevino. Together with her husband she sees through Otto's curmudgeonly exterior and slowly and surely they "save" Otto. Along the way there is a cat who has a starring role and Mack Bayda who plays a transgender character whom Otto befriends and offers accommodation to when Mack's parents through him out of their house. There's the local development company to rail against, a clown in a hospital to humiliate - all because they are idiots. Indeed, the highest praise Otto can give to anyone is to declare they are not an idiot.
I have always held the belief that Tom Hanks can play any role. I've changed my opinion. He is too avuncular to play the curmudgeon. We see through it. That took me out of the film and spoiled it somewhat. Having said that, it is an uplifting film that shows the darker aspects of the human condition and it's definitely worth a watch. Bring tissues.
If you can, seek out the original film, A Man Called Ove - it's better.