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A Man Called Otto Movie Review (Spoiler Free)

Tom Hanks gives a heart-wrenching, yet very different performance, in this Marc Foster remake of a Swedish original. Is it any good or simple January fuzz?

Genre: Comedy / Drama

Director: Marc Foster

Cast: Tom Hanks, Mariana Treviño, Manuel García-Rulfo, Juanita Jennings, Peter Lawson Jones, Mack Bayda, Cameron Britton, Rachel Keller & Truman Hanks.

Run Time: 126 min.

US Release: 13 January 2023

UK Release: 06 January 2023

German Release: 02 February 2023

When promotion for this dramatic comedy started popping up everywhere in Munich, the first thing that came to my mind was: “That poster and title look familiar”. Little did I know that my odd sense of deja-vu came because I had seen a similar poster, with the same title, around six years prior. The newest Marc Foster flick, starring the magnificent Tom Hanks, is a remake of a Swedish movie, directed by Hannes Holm, which itself is based on the same named book by author Fredrick Backman. Question is, can this American retelling keep up with the Swedish original?

Following the loss of his wife, Otto has turned into a real grump who has given up on life and people. When a young, chatty couple with two chatty daughters moves in nearby, he meets his match in the quick-witted Marisol, leading to an unexpected friendship.

Full disclosure, I can’t compare it to Holm’s original, as I never saw the 2015 version. I also never read the novel, so I can’t draw comparisons to it either. Nonetheless, what it did is peak my interest in both. I will catch up with A Man Called Ove, as it's called in Swedish, at some point this year, probably reviewing it for a “Throwback Thursday” special.

So let’s start with the screenplay, which was adapted into English by David Magee. Now, this is exactly the kind of story one expects to get, when going to watch it in theatres. It is a paint-by-numbers dramatic comedy, about a grumpy old man who learns to be more mild-mannered over a period of time. It uses emotionally manipulative techniques, to make audiences tear up, as well as funny moments to break the heavier segments. It is a standard movie in its genre that doesn’t add anything new to the formula. However, while not perfect, it does it good enough to entertain!

The biggest praise I can give the script is that the heart of the premise was kept, together with its positive message! It also makes good use of sentimental moments in specific scenes, which will guarantee audiences to well up. It does feel manipulative at times, but not to the extent that it interferes with the emotions it tries to convey. It also makes use of very serious, adult topics giving them a dark, comedic spin. That is not to say that it makes fun of those subjects, on the contrary, it tries to lighten up the weight of them.

It does have major issues though, which can be blamed for one on the script, just like the cinematography and music. For one, the film played specific aspects too safe, as to not step on anyone's toes. The darker subjects are plaid with but never truly explored, to keep the atmosphere more upbeat than melodramatic. Then there is the kitsch… As I stated in the paragraph before, the emotional components are valid, yet the overly-sweet tone can be sometimes a little overbearing.

Tom Hanks, who plays the lead role of Otto, is visibly having the time of his life, depicting this older person. Different to Hank’s usual roles, Otto is bad-tempered, rude, feels lonely, as well as misunderstood. However, contrary to other representations of similar older, caucasian males, the character is written to avoid any risks. He is not hateful, accepting of every race or gender, he simply is annoyed by people in general. That kind of cheapened the character and his learning path, as he is depicted to be liked by audiences immediately.

Truman Hanks portrays a younger version of his father in flashbacks, though lacks the charisma plus charm of his father. It is hard to understand how Otto’s future wife ever fell in love with him, the way Truman depicts the character.

Mariana Treviño has been cast as Otto’s new neighbour Marisol, who is the head of a Latino-American family. Opposite to what Otto is, she forces herself into his life, seeing what others don’t want to see, that behind the hard shell is a wounded soul. She proves to be not only intellectually savvy but also quick-witted to any of her old neighbour’s comments. Treviño gave the premise a positive wave of energy, with her upbeat persona. It was a pleasure to see her next to Hanks!

The cinematography is pretty standard, using a lot of cross-cuts for the dialogue-heavy picture, just like mild jump cuts that smoothen the overly long run time. The colour palette contains slightly desaturated tints, with the overall picture having a grey hue. The flashback sequences are a little bit irritating, as it feels like watching a completely different film. This is possibly due to the dream-like way it is shot, as a reflection of Otto’s memories. The colours are much stronger, the atmosphere is warmer, plus the framing borders have a soft lighting bloom.

The score, composed by Thomas Newman, suits the general tone of the story, while not being too intrusive. The same can’t be said about the jarring choice of songs, that play along some of the flashbacks. They are overly cheesy to the point of cringe.


Verdict: Yes, it does contain crass similarities to the first act of UP, there is no denying that! Even Pixar did a better job with the topic and still, Foster’s dramedy is wholesomely charming! The screenplay has extremely mushy segments, specifically during flashback sequences of the lead’s life, nevertheless, it does successfully tug at one’s heartstrings! The central message about the importance of life is well presented, and while the more ominous aspects of the narrative are never truly explored, the comedy does well to lighten those topics. Tom Hanks is as always fantastic, his portrayal of Otto is scary and heartwarming at the same time. His son on the other hand, who plays a younger version of the character, lacks his charming presence. It simply does not feel like the same persona. Mariana Treviño’s performance depicts exactly what is needed from her, containing positive magnetism. All in all, A Man Called Otto is a fun endearing watch, with flaws. It deserves a 7.0 out of 10.

If you don’t mind a little mushy, exploitative sentimentality in a few of the scenes, you are going to have a great time with this one. Tom Hanks does make this one worth it! Thank you for reading!

1 Comment

Mar 19, 2023

Good review

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