A Man Called Otto Review: Tom Hanks is a grumpy old man in Limp Remake

Based on the Swedish novel and film “A Man Called Ove”, Marc Forster condenses this sentimental story about the dangers of male independence.

Despite reports to the contrary (thanks, Henry Winkler), Tom Hanks will always be known as the nicest guy in Hollywood. But is Tom Hanks such a “nice guy” that he can only play dudes in the most obvious, literal ways? A murderous villain is too far-fetched; a double crossing commander might not be juicy enough. No, if Tom Hanks really wants to put a sour wrench on his quintessentially American good-guy bread and butter, he’ll have to play a grumpy old man. Not just any grumpy old man: a bitter, stubborn widower with a secret heart of gold. The question is not whether he can do it well enough, but whether he should have tried at all.

A Man Called Otto adds every drop of spontaneity and charm from its universally loved source material to the pile of clumsy and needless American remakes of hit international films. A remake of the 2016 Swedish comedy A Man Called Ove, based on Swedish writer Fredrik Backman’s 2012 bestseller A Man Called Otto, Americanizes the story of a grumpy old man who is raised by a boisterous immigrant family next door is healed. While “Otto” may reach fresh audiences that would otherwise balk at subtitles, this languid rendition is unlikely to inspire anyone to seek out the original.

The film begins with Otto (Hanks) going about his morning routine: checking the parking permits and clearances of every car in his small condominium, sorting the recyclables with his personal garbage collector, and carefully placing fresh flowers on his wife’s gravestone. Arriving on the factory floor, he is unpleasantly surprised by a mini retirement party and casts a disdainful look at his co-workers, who are a little too happy to cut into a cake decorated with his face. Returning to his model home on a fenced cul-de-sac, he shuts off the gas and electricity and drills a hole in the ceiling to attach a makeshift sling.

However, he is distracted from his grim task by a shabby parking job outside his window. Unable to resist his scolding urge, he falls right into the merry chaos of the young family moving in across the street. There’s the peppy Marisol (Mariana Treviño), her pleasant husband (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) and their two sweet daughters. After this initial introduction, a relationship begins to grow through a series of rocky neighborly interactions. To show her gratitude, Marisol brings over a warm, home-cooked meal – one that smells good enough to keep Otto on Earth for at least another day. She bravely tries to peek past his shoulder into the darkened living room, but she can’t quite fathom why the gruff old man is acting so reserved.

"A man named Otto"

“A Man Named Otto”

©Sony Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

Treviño is engaging and charismatic as the gregarious Marisol, who plays off Otto’s brusqueness with an endless stream of nonsequiturs and conversational gymnastics. Although Treviño makes the most of a fun, talkative role, she is fraught with the limitations of weary white storytelling conventions. She bravely fills in the margins of Marisol’s clichés, but the script and direction offer only a simplistic portrayal of a brash Latina – heavily accented and fast-talking.

Otto and Marisol’s friendship blossoms through driving lessons, which he takes very seriously as a former car man. Eventually, on these solo excursions, Otto recounts his late wife, why they never had children, and why he became estranged from his oldest friend in the neighborhood. As she assesses him with a listening ear, Marisol’s face betrays an unwavering determination to dig into Otto’s closed heart.

Directed by Marc Forster (“Finding Neverland”, “Monster’s Ball”) from a screenplay by David Magee, “A Man Called Otto” is an unsurprising Hollywood makeover of a sweet and heartwarming story. Under Forster’s commercial tutelage, the dark comedy elements the Swedes excel at fall flat, and Hanks’ hangdog stinginess feels more dark than funny. The film is similarly Americanized with a cloying sentimentality that milks Otto’s heartache and childless backstory for a tearful ending. There are far too many stilted flashbacks to Otto’s younger life, no doubt to enhance the role of Truman Hanks, the only Hanks son you’ve probably not heard of.

Much of the charm of the original is lost in the translation with “A Man Called Otto,” leaving in its place a crowded vehicle for Hanks to play his grumpy alter ego. It would be a lot more fun to see him really step out of his comfort zone, but the world might not be ready for such a risk from America’s favorite nice guy.

Grade: C+

Sony Pictures is releasing A Man Called Otto in select theaters on December 30th.

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https://www.indiewire.com/2022/12/a-man-called-otto-review-tom-hanks-remake-1234794868/ A Man Called Otto Review: Tom Hanks is a grumpy old man in Limp Remake

Lindsay Lowe

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