A Man Called Otto Review: It Retells a Romantic Love Story in Appropriate Flashbacks

In “A Man Called Otto,” Tom Hanks portrays a misanthropic, elderly hermit who never misses an opportunity to vent his ire. He gets through the day by giving everyone a hard time; you could call it his pastime.

From Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol” to Alan Arkin in “Little Miss Sunshine,” this type of get-off-my-lawn grouch has been portrayed numerous times. But with the right actor and the right script, it’s a formula for yolks (and for softly rediscovered humanity) that viewers never tire of, and Hanks is, without a doubt, the appropriate actor for this part.

Hanks has always had an edge, dating back to his early performances in films such as “Bachelor Party.” For years, when he was America’s biggest movie star, Hanks was often compared to James Stewart, the epitome of guy-next-door decent. This is why his kindness was never overbearing. (James Stewart had an advantage as well. Every great celebrity does.)

The opening scene of “A Man Called Otto” is promising, as Hanks’ Otto Anderson, a newly retired widower around the age of 60, attempts to buy a measurement of rope at a chain hardware store, only to discover that the store’s bureaucratic pricing protocols prevent him from paying for exactly five feet of rope.

He will be charged for six feet. This utterly unsettles him, not because he is so frugal, but because it is the kind of built-in consumer exploitation that, to him, signifies a broader lowering of standards.


Hanks’s harrumphing with a seductive self-justifying logic, and the naïve response of the store’s millennial staffers, who are doing everything they can to accommodate his rage, is the icing on the cake of high-dudgeon.

A Man Called Otto Review
A Man Called Otto Review

The secret weapon of a scene like this is that even though Otto is behaving like a jerk, he is sort of right in his petty and snide manner. It should concern folks a little that you can’t simply purchase five feet of rope from a company.

If “A Man Called Otto” had followed through on the notion of that sequence, it may have been a stronger film — funnier, edgier, and less conventional. Instead, it’s a plodding, formulaic tearjerker. Imagine that the Hanks character was mired in a rut of negative vibes, but that much of his complaining was amusing because it was laced with a sarcastic undertone of truth. This appears to be a crowd-pleaser.

The screenwriter of “A Man Called Otto” (inspired by the 2015 Swedish film “A Man Called Ove”), David Magee, and the film’s director, Marc Forster, do not have anything as clever in mind. Beginning in the real world, the film eventually transforms into a “redemptive” fairy tale. Even the potentially hilarious scene of Otto verbally abusing a hospital clown is rendered less amusing by the clown’s predictable overreaction. The film’s reach-for-the-synthetic, sitcom-meets-Hallmark-heart will likely end up pleasing very few individuals. It is the epitome of a film Tom Hanks deserved better than.

Otto, in case you were wondering, intends to use the rope to commit suicide. He is still reeling from the recent death of his wife, and he intends to hang himself in his living room (from a hole he punches into the ceiling — a foolhardy plan, to say the least). I’ve never been a fan of failed-suicide comedies, dating back to the prelude sequence of “Harold and Maude” (sorry, not a fan of that calculated 1970s cult-favorite eccentricity).

The reason is not that I find it so scandalous, but because it is actually quite sentimental beneath the surface. The joke is always the same: suicide attempts fail because the individual…truly desires to live. In this instance, the notion that Hanks’s character Otto has given up on life is one that the audience hardly pretends to accept.

Otto resides in the same calming blue prefabricated row-house development since he wed Sonya (Rachel Keller), the woman he first saw on a Philadelphia train platform when she dropped her book. He grabbed it and pursued her! As a young man, he walked all the way to the opposite side of the platform.

The film is interwoven with flashbacks to their relationship, and they’re built on the potentially effective stunt casting of Hanks’s 27-year-old son, Truman Hanks, as the younger Otto, who came to Philadelphia to enlist in the military, but his mission ended in failure. Truman Hanks is noticeably sweeter, softer, and more benign than his father, in contrast to his acerbic actor son Colin Hanks, who often resembles his father.

In almost any film, it would be difficult to accept him as a young Tom Hanks, but in this film, where we must believe that this angelic nerd transforms into a sharp-tongued malcontent, the transformation is far too jarring.

Of course, it didn’t just happen. There was…activity. And if there had been only one, it may not have led to the film’s contrivances. However, “A Man Named Otto” is comprised of sufficient Lame Screenwriting 101 devices to fill a trilogy of old-school, subpar awards-bait films. There is a catastrophe that occurs to Otto and Sonya.


Long-standing hostility exists between Otto and his friends and neighbors (Peter Lawson Jones and Juanita Jennings). And, of course, there is the plot device that propels the film: Marisol (Mariana Treviso), Otto’s new neighbor, clings to him for assistance, and he begins to assist her so much that he practically becomes a member of her family.

The film makes a point of including a transgender former student of Sonya’s to demonstrate that even though Otto grumbles about the world, he views it without bias. He is a hater with a golden heart.

The problem with “A Man Called Otto” is that as Otto becomes more affable, the film becomes more distractingly artificial. It ought to have been titled “Florida’s Grumpiest.”

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