In his 2009 review on “Everybody’s Fine” (2009), my late friend/mentor Roger Ebert pointed out that its lead actor, Robert De Niro, is better than many other actors in many things but playing nice is not one of them. While watching Tom Hanks in Marc Forster’s new film “A Man Called Otto”, I felt what is exactly opposite to Ebert’s response to De Niro in “Everybody’s Fine”. Sure, Hanks is one of the best actors of our time just like De Niro, but, let’s face it, playing gruff is not exactly his specialty, and I must point out that he feels a bit too mannered and strained especially during the first act of the movie.
At least, we can admire how much he tried to do something different in “A Man Called Otto” and two other movies in last year, though the overall result was not that good in my trivial opinion. While I have not seen Robert Zemeckis’ “Pinocchio” (2022) yet (I hope I will never come to watch it someday, considering how much it was lambasted by both critics and audiences), I can tell you instead that Hanks was often awkward and distracting in Baz Luhrmann’s latest work “Elvis” (2022), and it was rather understandable that Hanks was slapped with a Razzie award for his deeply flawed performance in “Elvis” a few weeks ago.
Although he is visibly strained at the beginning of “A Man Called Otto”, Hanks fortunately gets better bit by bit once his character shows more of human decency along the story. To be frank with you, I felt quite distant to the story and characters at first, but the movie and Hanks gradually won my heart and mind during next 2 hours, and that is certainly a considerable achievement in my viewpoint.
If the title of the movie sounds familiar to you, you have likely seen its Swedish original version “A Man Called Ove” (2015), which is based on the novel of the same name by Fredrik Backman. David Magee’s screenplay surely changes many things in the original film as transferring the story and characters to a suburban area in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, but it is mostly faithful to the Swedish version on the whole, and Magee and Forster did a mostly adequate job of balancing their movie well between comedy and drama.
At the beginning, the movie succinctly establishes the melancholic daily life of Otto Anderson, Hanks’ grumpy lead character. Since he lost his dear wife several years ago, this old dude has lived alone in his suburban house without interacting much with his neighbors including a guy who was once his best friend, and he also becomes more tired of living than before. During the opening scene unfolded in a local supermarket, he purchases a piece of rope for hanging himself later, but he only finds himself arguing a lot with an employee due to a silly trivial matter involved with the price of the rope.
When Otto is about to hang himself in his residence, something comes to distract him at the last minute. A Latino woman named Marisol (Mariana Treviño) and her family happen to be moving into a residence right across from his residence, and he cannot help but notice how clumsy Marisol and her husband handle their moving process. Fortunately, Otto’s suicide attempt is failed at the same time, and he promptly goes outside for taking care of the matter for himself.
Quite grateful to Otto’s little help, Marisol begins to approach closer to Otto as a good neighbor, and that certainly annoys Otto a lot. As he comes to interact more with her than expected, he gets involved more with Marisol and her family, and there is a darkly amusing moment when his another suicide attempt is aborted again by Marisol.
Of course, Otto gradually opens himself more to not only Marisol but also several others in his neighborhood and a certain scene-stealing stray cat, and we also get to know more about Otto’s life via a series of flashback scenes. We see how young Otto, played by Truman Hanks (He is one of Hanks’ sons, by the way), instantly fell in love with a young pretty woman who would eventually become his wife. We see how Otto’s friendship with that guy was developed and then broken due to a rather petty reason. And we see how Otto’s wife was the light of his life throughout their married life – especially after one devastating accident which smashed their simple wish forever.
As his character slowly comes out of his sullen exterior, Hanks exudes more gentle humanity as you can expect from him, and he is also supported well by a number of good performers to watch. While Mariana Treviño brings a considerable amount of warmth and spirit to her character, Cameron Britton, who has been more notable since his chilling appearance in Netflix drama series “Mindhunter”, and Manuel Garcia-Rulfo are also solid in their respective comic supporting roles, and the special mention goes to Mack Bayda, a male transgender actor who holds his own little place well in the film.
On the whole, “A Man Called Otto” is not exactly necessary in addition to being one or two steps below the Swedish original version, but it is a mostly solid remake at least. I still prefer the drier sense of humor in the Swedish original version, but this remake version does have some merit even though Hanks’ less-than-perfect acting can be an acquired taste for some of you. Yes, I can think of a bunch of other notable actors who can be more natural in playing gruff (How about Bill Camp or Tracey Letts, for example?), but he did try, and I appreciate that at least.