2022 was a tough year for America’s Dad, AKA Tom Hanks. He starred in one of the worst-reviewed films of the year, the misguided live-action remake of Disney’s classic Pinocchio (which only served to make Guillermo del Toro’s masterful version look even better). He also collected some of his worst reviews for his over-the-top performance as Colonel Tom Parker in Elvis—easily the worst thing in the film. It was easy to wonder if Hanks, once considered the most reliable, audience-friendly actor in Hollywood, had lost his touch.
Well, don’t fret. It didn’t take long for the Hanks-of-old to resurface and bring us back to reality with a movie and performance that not only fit him like an old shoe but reminds us of what we have always loved the most about him in the first place.
In A Man Called Otto, directed by Marc Forster, Hanks plays Otto, a grumpy older man who is the fussbudget of his neighborhood, getting on everyone’s case if they don’t park in the right spot, use the correct recycling bin or stretch the right way when exercising. When a young family moves in across the street, they are not deterred by Otto’s off-putting demeanor, as Marisol, played by Mariana Treviño, in particular, attempts to connect with Otto, continually putting him into situations where he must interact with other people, challenging him to behave like a fellow human. What Marisol doesn’t know is that Otto isn’t just grumpy, he’s bitterly depressed, having lost his wife just six months earlier, and now Otto has no reason left to live.
If this feels familiar, it should. A Man Called Otto is the English-language remake of the well-received 2015 Swedish film, A Man Called Ove, which was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars. It’s also the second high-profile remake of a critically-acclaimed Swedish film in recent years, as Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Will Ferrell starred in Downhill (2020), an American remake of the film Force Majeure (2014). And this is, of course, on the heels of the most famous Swedish-to-English remake, David Fincher’s Oscar-winning The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2011).
But it’s not the remake aspect that makes A Man Called Otto feel the most familiar. It’s impossible to hear of a premise of a grumpy old man badgering people in his neighborhood without instantly thinking of Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino (2008) and the instantly-iconic line, “Get off my lawn!” The premise in A Man Called Otto is also eerily reminiscent of Ricky Gervais’ brilliant Netflix series, After Life, in which a man, bitter and angry from having just lost his wife to cancer, takes his resentment out on the world and sees no reason to live. Of course, in Gran Torino and After Life, the curmudgeon is eventually softened when he lets other people in. It is here where A Man Called Otto follows a similar, predictable, well-trodden path to Formula-ville.
It’s too bad, because Hanks is as good as ever as Otto, and is the glue that holds the film together, keeping us interested, despite the lack of any imagination or originality in the script. We know where this film is going from the first scene, but it’s easy to settle in with Hanks’ instantly entertaining characterization as he skillfully sands down Otto’s rough edges with subtle humor. It’s not easy to find the right tone in a film like this, which blends drama and comedy with a heavy dose of melancholy, and it’s hard to imagine any other actor traversing it as successfully as Hanks does.
Still, Forster, who is known for action films like Quantum of Solace and World War Z, and dramas such as Finding Neverland, lays on the sentimentality a bit much, using flashbacks to fill us in on Otto’s life, especially his romance with his wife, the love of his life. But just when it gets a bit too saccharine, we come back to the present, and Hanks finds the groove again. Treviño’s performance is also thoroughly enjoyable, as Marisol’s gentle combativeness with Otto is endearing, and Treviño never over-reaches in a role that could have so easily wandered into sketch comedy. And no film like this would be complete without a scene-stealing animal, and, of course, there is a conveniently-adorable cat who steals Otto’s heart—and ours.
Although A Man Called Otto plays it a bit too safe and ends up taking us exactly where we knew we’d go, it still manages to hit an emotional chord that is undeniable. Tom Hanks makes all the difference in elevating this film from Hallmark status, reminding us that he may stumble once in a while, but he’s still got it.