A Man Called Otto Review

A Man Called Otto is metaphorically and actually about the title character eventually getting his power back. Otto Anderson (Tom Hanks) is a recent widower just retired. We’re introduced to him as he suspiciously and precisely purchases a length of rope at a local suburban Pittsburgh home improvement store. Otto is a curmudgeon and he would probably tell neighbors to remove themselves from his condominium lawn, but he’s also Tom Hanks so we’re softened to him. It’s a bummer when that length of rope turns out to be what we fear. Not happy about his current situation, he shuts his electricity off as a prelude to suicide.

Then he keeps getting interrupted. The first prevention comes unwittingly from new neighbors Marisol (Mariana Treviño, stealing the show) and Tommy (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo). They are parents of two adorable girls with a boy on the way. The husband is a kindly dim bulb. Marisol is not. She’s strong and caring and seems to drive every relationship she’s in even if she can’t drive a car. At first Otto is dismissive of her (though not her cooking).

Another attempt involving carbon monoxide poisoning is thwarted by Marisol. Slowly an odd friendship develops. Their interplay generates the real electricity in the screenplay from David Magee. It was, as many know, adapted from Fredrik Backman’s 2012 novel A Man Called Ove. It was turned into an Oscar nominated 2015 Swedish film.

The genuine emotional connection between Otto and Marisol helps mask that other characters are broad caricatures. There’s silly Jimmy (Cameron Britton), who’s always doing his comically awkward walks nearby. Or the hip hop blaring Real Estate Agent (comedian Mike Birbiglia), who is trying to evict Otto’s long-time friends with health problems. Minimal nuance is involved with these folks – “Real Estate Agent” isn’t even granted a name. I forget if Bratty Dog Walker (her pooch is treated like royalty) has one. There is a cat who is easily more memorable as Otto increasingly seems to have nine lives. Also on the plus side, flashback sequences that show his marriage to Sonya (Rachel Keller) help inform Otto’s condition. His younger self is portrayed by the actor’s real son Truman Hanks.

Marc Forster is behind the camera and what a fascinating filmography he’s had. From directing Halle Berry to an Oscar in Monster’s Ball to Daniel Craig’s weakest 007 outing Quantum of Solace to the effective adaptation of World War Z and Finding Neverland and Christopher Robin, he mixes it up. His main style might be that he doesn’t have much of one (whatever fits the occasion). A silhouetted and overly dramatic later suicide attempt tries to bite off more stylistically than its filmmaker can chew. Forster is mostly content to allow Hanks and Treviño steer the vehicle and that’s welcome. A Man Called Otto is far from perfect yet it has a lot of heart.

*** (out of four)

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