February 2, 2023
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Life & Culture

Review: Tom Hanks stars in flat remake of Swedish film

A Man Called Otto

Sony Pictures

Tom Hanks is clearly one of the most beloved and recognizable actors working today, and the roles he typically takes on reflect how the world views him: formidable, often heroic and always relatable. But with “A Man Called Otto,” Hanks assumes a very different kind of role as what may just be the grumpiest man in the U.S.

A remake of the 2015 Swedish film “A Man Called Ove,” which itself was adapted from the bestselling novel by Fredrik Backman, “A Man Called Otto” follows the life of depressed widower Otto Anderson (Hanks) as he attempts to end his life. After meeting his new neighbor, Marisol (Mariana Treviño), the two form an unexpected friendship that ends up changing the course of Otto’s life forever.

Considering that the charming Swedish film was nominated for two Academy Awards, perhaps it was inevitable that an American remake was going to be made. “A Man Called Otto” certainly doesn’t need to exist. It is a firmly mediocre and mostly unremarkable crowd-pleaser that sets out to do exactly what one might expect: make audiences cry. That’s not to say it doesn’t have its redeeming qualities, though, even if it’s clear how it’s all going to play out right from the beginning.

While it’s definitely not one of his best roles, the way Hanks is able to convey the sadness that Otto faces — while still showing signs of a man who deep down does truly care about people — is quite impressive. However, the standout of the entire cast may just be Treviño, portraying a character of true light and joy in Otto’s life who shows him the importance of accepting help. The story’s commitment to showing how beautiful human connection can be is heartwarming and charming, if overly streamlined in its execution.

Despite the film’s strengths in acting, it quickly becomes evident to the viewer that the storytelling is lacking. Audiences learn about Otto’s past with his wife, Sonya (Rachel Keller), through flashbacks, which are easily the weakest part of the film. These scenes are pretty terribly written with some truly cheesy and unnatural dialogue, making it easier to laugh at the characters than to feel with them. Director Marc Foster could have found more clever and nuanced ways to convey Otto’s past relationship with his lover, thereby strengthening the film’s emotional weight when it tries to get the waterworks flowing toward the end.

The film and the comedic timing of its cast make for some very funny moments throughout. Tonally, though, the script could have been more impactful if it had leaned into dark comedy rather than trying to water down Otto’s bleakest moments. While the story beats remain largely the same from its source material, in the process of turning this story into a mainstream American production, the story loses out on some of its nuances.

It is difficult to imagine that any audience member will walk out of “A Man Called Otto” having their life changed in the way that Otto does. But it’s hard to not be at least a little bit charmed and warmed to see Otto’s development throughout the story. Even if it doesn’t go much beyond its surface-level messages about kindness and decency, sometimes the world does need to be reminded of that.

Matt Minton can be reached at mminton@ithaca.edu