‘Otto,’ Not Very Erotic

Tom Hanks stars in a genial weeper about the ties that bind

In A Man Called Otto, the title character Otto Anderson, played by Tom Hanks at his most universally appealing, is a stoic, hard-working man, willing to sacrifice his own happiness for the common good. In other words, he’s not a millennial. A Man Called Otto is weepy, over-sentimental glop, about as realistic as a greeting card, in the same tradition as books like Tuesdays With Morrie. Yet it’s sincere enough, and so committed to its corny messaging, that it ends up charming anyway. Its appeal to common decency and neighborliness and the ties that bind may be a white lie writ large. But it contains enough truth to make the movie a hit among grownups looking back on their own lives with a mixture of happy nostalgia and wistful regret.

A MAN CALLED OTTO ★★★ (3/5 stars)
Directed by: Marc Forster
Written by: David Magee
Starring: Tom Hanks, Mariana Treviño, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Rachel Keller
Running time: 126 min

A Man Called Otto is not quite a shot-for-shot remake of the popular Swedish film ‘A Man Called Ove,’ itself adapted from a best-selling book. But the changes are so slight that it’s hard in many ways to tell the films apart. Otto is a grump, possibly because he lives in what appears to be Philadelphia, who is trying to protect his small block of townhomes from rapacious real-estate developers. He’s especially sad because his beautiful wife Sonia has recently died from cancer. He keeps trying to kill himself, but neighbors who have things that need fixing knock on his door constantly to interrupt him. People need him, a cat needs him, and if he commits suicide, nothing will get done right. In the Swedish version, the family that unofficially adopts the grump was Middle Eastern. In ‘Otto,’ they are Latino. A “Social Media Journalist” plays a key role in the new version, and a troubled neighborhood teen who Otto takes under his wing is transgendered, all nods to modernity.

But underneath it all is an old-fashioned story about Otto the Grouch, who finds meaning again late in life, despite unimaginable grief at having lost his one true love. The movie spends a surprising amount of time in flashbacks to the halcyon days of what appear to be an apolitical 1970s, where Otto and Sonia meet cute on a train platform, fall in love, marry, and then lose their baby in a melodramatic way that makes the films of Douglas Sirk (or an episode of All My Children) seem subtle. Sonia was the bright light, and Otto was a penny-pincher who knows how to fix things. But he literally suffers from a medical condition of having a Big Heart. That’s the kind of “The Rest of the Story” sledgehammer that the movie brings down on you from time to time.

A Man Called Otto is a love letter to the lost virtues of thrift and competence. It’s anti-corporate, and is maybe mildly critical of our health-care system. But mostly, it depicts a world where decent neighbors being decent can band together against the forces of evil. Who doesn’t want to believe that’s true? And while the supporting cast is all fine and pleasant, this is Tom Hanks’s movie, and career, in miniature. His Otto is thoroughly immersive and believable, and marks his best late-career performance to date, though I also loved his WWII sea captain in the submarine thriller Greyhound and his Old-West storytelling fella in News of The World. If American film has a block captain who’s keeping it in order despite immense pressure from the forces of evil, it’s Tom Hanks. No one doubts that he knows how to fix things.

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Neal Pollack

Book and Film Globe Editor in Chief Neal Pollack is the author of 12 semi-bestselling books of fiction and nonfiction, including the memoirs Alternadad and Stretch, the novels Repeat and Downward-Facing Death, and the cult classic The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature. A Rotten Tomatoes certified reviewer for both film and television, Neal has written articles and humor for every English-language publication except The New Yorker. Neal lives in Austin, Texas, and is a three-time Jeopardy! champion.

2 thoughts on “‘Otto,’ Not Very Erotic

  • January 16, 2023 at 9:50 pm

    Hanks was not a submarine captain in Greyhound. Greyhound was a surface ship defending agains Uboats.


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