There appears to have been a lack of self awareness when “A Man Called Otto” producer Tom Hanks allowed himself to star in the film. The film is based on “A Man Called Ove” which is a Swedish novel that has already been adapted to the big screen once. The previous adaptation was actually nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and Best Makeup and Hairstyling.
While we haven’t seen the previous celluloid interpretation, we can certainly say this about the American version: Tom Hanks is (seemingly) too nice offscreen to make this role work. “A Man Called Otto” centers around Otto Anderson who is the neighborhood curmudgeon. His obsession with rules and regulations drives him apart from his surrounding community.
Things change when a new family, led by Mariana Treviño’s Marisol, moves in across the way and wedges themselves into his life. This is nothing we haven’t seen before. Though we absolutely give credit to Treviño, who takes what could’ve been an absolute caricature of a role and turns it into something heartwarming.
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Back to the root of the issue: Hanks is no longer someone who particularly disappears into roles. Yes we know his turn as Colonel Tom Parker in the recent “Elvis” film is technically a villainous turn. However we said it then and we’ll say it now, we didn’t understand that casting choice either. By having Hanks – someone who has built his offscreen persona as this affable pleasant person – play this role that requires going on a journey from grumpiness to the max to big softie. Yet as soon as Hanks steps into it you know it’s going to end in warm fuzzies. We’d LOVE to see a performance from him where he starts warm and goes full dark unhinged, give us him as an off the rails android in “M3GAN” or something. However because he’s built so much of this offscreen track record, it makes the onscreen character’s journey from prickly to personable infinitely shorter.
“A Man Called Otto” is also a bizarre family affair. Tom’s wife Rita Wilson serves as a producer and providing some music for the film. We’re also not sure if it’s nepotism or being efficient to cast Tom Hanks’ son in the role of the younger version of the character. To be clear… this is Truman Hanks, his youngest. NOT the one who is probably more on your radar and not for good reasons. Truman does an okay job channeling his father. Though ironically as we were watching it (without the knowledge it was a Hanks) we were thinking “they couldn’t have gotten a closer looking younger actor?” so we did NOT recognize the family connection.
In addition to the issues with casting we found this version relied more on the built in emotional baggage of some of the situations versus trying to create genuine emotions in the audience.
While the new adaptation does add some diversity to the cast, and we’ll say it does so in a fairly smooth way, we don’t understand there being any compelling reason to not watch the Oscar nominated 2015 Swedish “A Man Called Ove” instead. That all being said, if you’re looking for something without any spice that doesn’t require anything of you, “A Man Called Otto” could be for you.
It’s in theaters now.