You don’t need to have read the book (A Man Called Ove) or seen the original film adaptation in Swedish to be, frankly, underwhelmed by A Man Called Otto. This new adaptation had the same emotive storyline that tugs on the heartstrings, but the americanisation makes it a tad more… bland.
It is based on the heartwarming story of an elderly widowed curmudgeon Ove (renamed ‘Otto’ and played by Tom Hanks) as he channels the depression and pain he’s left with after the death of his wife in to a vice-like grip over the neighbourhood – daily patrols to check parking permits, sorting the recycling and scowling at the new development next door. His morbid trajectory is interrupted by his new neighbours Marisol (Mariana Treviño) and Tommy (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), and their two daughters.
The story in itself is still emotional and entertaining, but the performance from Hanks lacks bitterness and sternness that would make his Otto more convincing. As the audience we’re meant to believe that he is going to be this way until the end of his days, but Otto seems to be actively looking for opportunities to change, reasons to hang on even though he’s struggling with the death of his wife, Sonya. Throughout the movie her story is told through a series of flashbacks, leaving her rather one-dimensional – not really a person, but a mythic symbol of Otto’s lost hope. As he tries repeatedly to kill himself, attempts which either fail or are interrupted, the movie wavers hesitantly between black comedy and awkward.
Marisol and Tommy’s chaotic and colourful family crash into Otto’s life as they move in next door, comically struggling to park their rental trailer, where Otto of course comes to the rescue. Originally Iranian immigrants, they have been changed to South American to make them seemingly more accessible to US audiences. Treviño and Garcia-Rulfo give the most realistic performances of the movie, but their characters are again, very one note.
A Man Called Otto is an average film built on a good premise. Despite not being gritty and realistic, Hanks’ performance still is the stand out of the film, as the other characters are never given the opportunity to fully embrace their own identities. Emotional and predictable, it’s a good film to release any held grief but lacks depth that could make it great.