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A Man Called Otto: Tom Hanks Stars in a Shoddy Adaptation

A Man Called Otto

A Man Called Otto preview screening provided by Sony Pictures

A Man Called Otto is at its best when it’s letting Tom Hanks revel as the grouchy old man, but at its worst when it tries to juggle humour with seriousness”

Who doesn’t love Tom Hanks? At this point in his career, the Oscar winner extraordinaire has played just about every relatable character known to man. From a guy trying to catch his flight in The Terminal (2004) to a news editor in The Post (2017), there’s almost always a regular guy at the core of his films who’s caught up in a less-than regular situation. His latest character is also arguably his most uncompromising and it’s a thrill to see the actor embrace someone that on the face of it all, probably needs a long holiday.

Based on a 2012 book called ‘A Man Called Ove’ and the 2015 Swedish film of the same name, A Man Called Otto sees, well, a man called Otto (Hanks) doing everything in his power just be left alone. He’s also trying to make sure that everything is in order in his little neighbourhood. While he manages to somewhat achieve the latter, it’s not until a bubbly Mexican family move in across the street that Otto realises he’ll have a tough time being left alone and shaking these kind strangers.

It doesn’t take long, however, for the first of many jarring scenes to take place: Otto sets up a noose in his living room in what is to be a series of unsuccessful suicide attempts. In more refined hands, like that of frequent collaborator Steven Spielberg, something as heavy-handed as suicide would probably be handled a bit more carefully. For Director Marc Foster (World War Z, Quantum of Solace), it leaves a sour taste that seems to progressively get worse and worse. In part, this is due to the lack of tonal cohesion throughout this film where more confronting scenes like these suicide scenes play out like a build up to a punchline — usually in the form of someone knocking on the door to pull Otto back from the abyss. As an audience member, it leaves you feeling all over the place where you’re not quite sure whether you should wince or chuckle (something this particular audience did a fair bit of).

Then again, a large portion of this film is all over the place. There are flashback scenes recounting a young Otto’s life (played by Hanks’ son Truman Hanks) and how he met his wife, and they obviously serve to shed some light on why he attempts self-harm and is detached as he is. Often, these scenes are strangely edited into the film and don’t work in their entirety because the script is built up of lines that people simply wouldn’t say — or maybe they’re just not delivered as convincingly in these flashbacks.

Mariana Treviño and Tom Hanks star in Columbia Pictures A MAN CALLED OTTO. photo by: Niko Tavernise

Mariana Treviño and Tom Hanks star in Columbia Pictures A MAN CALLED OTTO. photo by: Niko Tavernise

A second glaring issue is how the film raises concerns around transphobia through the character of Malcom (Mack Bayda). He’s someone that Otto’s wife used to teach and he’s a delivery boy, but when he confides that his father had kicked him out of the house for being Trans, Otto almost becomes the Hail Mary saviour who helps him out and rectifies his problems through his sudden good-will. In essence, this need to inject the film with really heavy stuff while trying to tell an engaging character driven story, ultimately leaves both attempts in limbo. If you throw in the issue around how a body-corporate treats its residence, you have a winning trifecta!

The best part of the film is undoubtedly Hanks. Where he played iconic TV host and personality, Fred Rogers, with a warmth and charm in A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood (2019), his performance as Otto hinges on his ability to both buy into the cranky old guy stereotype while displaying vulnerability behind the various sags and wrinkles across his misunderstood face. Of course, Hanks is perfect for this sort of performance —and probably reaffirms that he’d be the best live-action like Carl Fredricksen— as he has that natural charisma and likeability where he can almost capture two different emotions at once. His Mexican counterpart, Mariana Trevino (who plays Marisol), also does a great job in being the ray of sunshine that pierces Otto’s clouds.

When all is said and done, there are more clouds than rays in A Man Called Otto. The film is at its best when it’s letting Tom Hanks revel as the grouchy old man, but at its worst when it tries to juggle humour with seriousness — which is 90% of the time. The result is a tonally mishappen film that really needed to have more fun with its titular character and not fall into the oversentimental, even if its source material walks a similar path.

A Man Called Otto opens nationally from New Year’s Day


Arnel Duracak

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