What to Watch Verdict
While formulaic and sometimes eye rolling, Tom Hanks' latest will charm audiences, with a big hand from Mariana Treviño.
Mariana Treviño and Hanks' chemistry
The dramatic moments are handled with an appropriate grace
Some components are groan-inducing
The heavy-handed antagonists
English remakes of critically acclaimed foreign-language movies are nothing new, so it was just a matter of time until A Man Called Ove, a 2015 Swedish movie based on the international best-selling novel by Fredrik Backman about an elderly curmudgeon set in his ways whose life is turned upside down with the arrival of new neighbors, was given the Hollywood treatment. That time is now, as A Man Called Otto has arrived, with Tom Hanks playing said curmudgeon.
While at the outset Otto may seem like a role going against type for Hanks, who is often lovingly referred to as America's dad, it isn't hard to predict where his journey is going, which is ultimately the biggest problem in the movie. Predictable, formulaic and with many moments of intended levity more eye-roll worthy than laugh inducing, there are times where you could simply write A Man Called Otto off. And yet, most are going to be won over by this charming movie, thanks in large part to Hanks and the delightful performance from Mariana Treviño.
Tom Hanks has been so good for so long it's hard not to take his work for granted. But while we'll hold off on putting A Man Called Otto among the actor's best performances, he plays a grump well, while also nailing the quiet sadness that Otto is burdened with when the movie starts.
That then pairs incredibly well with Treviño, who plays his firecracker new neighbor, Marisol. The yin and yang chemistry between the two performances is fantastic, lighting up the screen together. Save for the relationship with Otto and his estranged friend Reuben (Peter Lawson Jones), the rest of the character dynamics struggle to reach the same height.
Having not seen the 2015 Swedish version or read Backman's original novel, we can't say how much A Man Called Otto's attempted takedowns of many modern practices are faithful to their source material, but they certainly aren't subtle. The real estate company that serves as a key opponent for Otto throughout the movie is named "Dye & Merica," and in case you didn't get it the first time, Hanks comes right out and says that it sounds like "dying America," a lament at how the world has changed. There are also some cringe-worthy vloggers in one critical scene that stretches the suspension of disbelief (at least I hope so). No one could say these aspects of the movie are subtle.
However, where director Marc Forster should absolutely be given some credit is in how he handles the scenes where Otto contemplates suicide. Longing to join his recently deceased wife, Sonya, Otto is meticulous in making his plans, but recalling beautiful memories of he and his wife (with younger versions played by Hanks' son Truman Hanks and Toyko Vice's Rachel Keller) reveal his internal struggles. Forster gives these scenes the deft gravitas they need. It is also great that the movie makes the point to offer information early in its credits for anyone who may be seeking help.
It seems more often than not that something gets lost in the translation of a foreign movie to the English language, with a few exceptions. While the movie definitely has some of those troublesome characteristics, its brightest elements — Hanks, Treviño and an emotional core likely to elicit a few tears from moviegoers — help it outshine those faults. A Man Called Otto is one of those exceptions of a Hollywood foreign remake being able to stand on its own two-feet.
A Man Called Otto is now playing in the US, expanding to all markets by January 13. It releases in the UK on January 6.
Michael Balderston is a DC-based entertainment and assistant managing editor for What to Watch, who has previously written about the TV and movies with TV Technology, Awards Circuit and regional publications. Spending most of his time watching new movies at the theater or classics on TCM, some of Michael's favorite movies include Casablanca, Moulin Rouge!, Silence of the Lambs, Children of Men, One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest and Star Wars. On the TV side he enjoys Peaky Blinders, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Saturday Night Live, Only Murders in the Building and is always up for a Seinfeld rerun. Follow on Letterboxd (opens in new tab).
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