In A man called Otto, Tom Hanks stars as a grumpy old man named Otto, who is kind of an asshole. He’s a bit of a nosy. He lives on a quiet street in suburban Pittsburgh where everyone seems to know each other and you need a parking permit at your window to park your car or someone (Otto) will notice. The older residents, including Otto, have a bit of history. That doesn’t stop Otto from believing that everyone in his midst is a bit of an idiot. He is right; everyone is wrong. The whippersnappers with their phones and their social networks. The young store employees whose insistence on helping this older man find what he needs makes Otto feel like his intelligence is being insulted. The people who put trash in a recycling bin – which Otto, a rules follower whose daily routine is to do his rounds and correct his neighbors’ mistakes, makes a point of collecting and disposing of them in the right place . Nothing seems to make him happy. A retirement party only reminds him that he felt bad for the job to begin with. And he has no one – his personality makes it unsurprising, but still. Watching, you immediately jump from wondering where his family is to thinking that the lack of family may explain why he is the way he is.
A man called Otto is kinda funny as a Tom Hanks experiment. It clarifies something about his personality. He’s the man who played Mister Rogers, who once worked to save Matt Damon from World War II with his dignity intact amid breathtaking violence. It’s Mr. Reliable. Apollo 13, Captain Phillips and defile it’s all about his strong moral backbone, an accuracy that isn’t dampened by a short temper or the occasional stern look. Hanks is one of those actors who uses his toughness wisely enough that you think you’ve earned it. When he gets weird, it sounds like a joke: weirdness doesn’t come naturally to him. So he sometimes plays with the unnatural. The grotesque, like the one we saw earlier this year in Elvis, where Hanks played the King’s sleazy, bloated, carnivalesque manager, is a feature that, in Hanks’ hands, only works (or tries) because we know the actor is the radical opposite. We know that’s wrong, but he’s a movie star, one of the best and one of the last. When a movie star of this caliber hits the wrong note, we’re almost criminally willing to pretend it was on purpose. The Fascinating Thing About Hank’s Slippery Fat Bend Elviswhat Hanks clearly appreciates is that it would be hard to prove us wrong.
As Otto, Hanks plays an older asshole from the About Schmidt variety – a classic codger. Or to keep him in the Hanksiverse, a man close to Jimmy Dugan, Mr. “There’s no crying in baseball”: a jerk not so bad after all, the kind of man you never totally hate , even when he’s hateful, because you’ve cast him as a sentimental convert all along. Otto is particularly cuddly, in his own way, a bit like a grumpy cat whose face you can’t help but smooch despite hissing at you – because somehow you convince yourself that the cat doesn’t think so, even if your scratches bleed. This is how Otto is treated by his new younger neighbors, Marisol (Mariana Treviño) and Tommy (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) and their young children. They know they’re getting on his nerves. They know they’re asking too many favors – that they’re too much of a part of a man’s life who shows signs of not wanting to be bothered. What they don’t know is that Otto gave up his life – was actually determined to kill himself when they moved in across the street. What we know is that a little excess love is exactly what the movie formula gods ordered.
A man called Otto is based on the 2012 novel A man called Ove by Fredrik Backman, already adapted into a Swedish film of the same name. The movie is just okay. Marc Forster basically knows what he’s got: a big star, a good script, a relatable story. Does. Flashbacks tell us more about who he is (there was a woman, after all!) and why he is the way he is. Minor incidents involving Otto and his neighbors and the conspiracy to reduce this curmudgeon to the fat softie he really is culminate in a startling act of solidarity, the kind of move we shouldn’t have doubted Otto was capable of. , because at the end of the day, he’s not an asshole because he enjoys it: it all stems from a deep sense of right and wrong. He’s an asshole, but he’s not unfair.
What is interesting is to reflect on what the film is and what it is not. Otto has a gruff side that, in the hands of another actor—say, Clint Eastwood—would have easily lent itself to becoming a gruff boomer badass, a Greater Torino antihero on the same path from asshole to reluctant hero as the Otto we were given, but with an uncomfortable bite. A man called Otto often feels poised to give us a genuinely offensive man – less of a mere asshole and more of a problematic grandpa you’d find hard to approve of. But he deviates like a virtuoso.
Perhaps that’s what can make an ultimately mediocre film like this rather amusing: a sympathetic cast of oddballs and friendly faces surround an expert Hanks as he does a familiar but complex two-step, dastardly dance. in all almost wrong but ultimately morally right directions. Everything is under his control. His anti-hero has been all heroes from the start. If anything, the film nearly overcompensates. The personalities amidst Hanks are obviously diverse, ticking various boxes (Latinx, Black, trans, disabled, a full range of ages) without – thankfully – feeling also cynically designed. Because Otto, as it’s written, doesn’t reject this world – because he doesn’t dub the young trans guy on his doorstep, or spew racist filth at the new minorities moving into his neighborhood – we must understand that, bad as it is seems as he is, if he doesn’t complain about these things, he can’t be so bad. But the Hanks of it all already speak for it. He’s not going to look like a villain. His appeal is to convince us that he is flawed and forgivable enough, just as a man.