Not all European films translate well to the US when remakes come around (see: Downhill); and the Swedish modern classic novel A Man Called Ove and its foreign language adaptation are put to the test with the help of Tom Hanks in the Hollywood-ified A Man Called Otto.
Otto Anderson (Hanks) is a widower with one thing on his mind: killing himself. Living alone in suburban Pittsburgh and pedantic about the going ons in his neighborhood, he is ready to give up. That is until an overly friendly Mexican family moves in, shaking his thinking and gnawing at this frozen demeanor to warm his heart and lust for life once more.
The funniest and best part of the film is Hanks playing the antithesis of his classic roles. He is angry, rude, and judgemental, rarely smiling, and full of irritation. It’s hard to ignore the fact that he looks like he’s having the time of his life in the film, even more so as the film progresses and he injects more humanity into the character.
However, this is also the film’s downfall, as scenes not including him feel second-rate due to script and direction faults. Even as his real-life son Truman Hanks plays a younger Otto in flashbacks and we see Otto’s earlier life with his wife Sonya (Rachel Keller), the film leans into sentimentality too much and slows down the modern and comedic pacing of the film.
The cast overall is solid, particularly the Mexican family ensemble led by Marisol (Mariana Trevino), with the classic vivacity and lust for life that brings the film its heart. Subplots involving estranged neighbours and a trans teen finding acceptance are touchingly powered by Juanita Jennings and Mack Bayda, respectively.
This struggle to balance the comedy and the sadness, particularly with a lead character who is so intent on suicide, is tough and Marc Forster does struggle with combining the two elements at times. Its conclusion feels overly sentimental and more conventional storytelling doesn’t present anything new, however, it does succeed in being a crowdpleaser with a message that resonates regardless of age or mentality.