NOW IN THEATERS! In Marc Forster’s feature film, A Man Called Otto, Tom Hanks plays against type by playing a grumpy old man. The catch is that he turns into Tom Hanks by the film’s end.
The aforementioned Hanks plays the grumpy and annoyed Otto. Nobody likes him… really, nobody likes him anymore. Otto is the “Karen” of his HOA holding everyone to the strict letter of the bylaws. He bristles at any form of happiness or joyful quirkiness from his neighbors and is in constant conflict with everyone around him.
After being forced to retire from his long-time blue-collar job and walking out on his cake, Otto heads home to his empty cold townhouse. He then cancels all his utilities and prepares to hang himself. At the last moment, there’s a commotion across the street when new neighbors Marisol (Mariana Treviño) and Tommy (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) attempt to parallel park their U-Haul trailer. The annoyed Otto pushes the helpless Tommy aside to get the job done. Otto’s actions gain Marisol’s respect, and she delivers a container of authentic Mexican food to Otto right before he tries to hang himself again.
When you strip the film down to its basics, A Man Called Otto is essentially a big-budget Hallmark movie starring America’s Dad (which seems appropriate). From here, you know exactly what’s going to happen. Otto’s burgeoning friendship with Marisol spurs him to reconsider his attitude and open his life. Her unrelenting niceness causes Otto’s heart to grow three sizes. Of course, Marisol’s super cute children are around to help as well. Yes, through flashbacks, we learn about Otto’s wife, Sonya (Rachel Keller), who died years ago.
“Otto’s burgeoning friendship with Marisol spurs him to reconsider his attitude…”
A Man Called Otto is your quintessential feel-good movie about being a good person while playing it safe for the most part. There is clearly a market (and a need) for feel-good movies. But let’s face it, this film relies heavily on the gimmick of schmaltz and heaping portions of it. There’s a cast of quirky characters radiating sunshine, the restoration of a friendship after a betrayal, and an act of kindness that Sonya showed upon a kid named Malcolm (Mack Bayda), who was the only one to call him “Malcolm.” The icing on the cake is the evil real-estate investor, played by Mike Birbiglia, versus the social-media journalist Julia (Josefine Lindegaard).
As a film, there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with A Man Called Otto — solid acting by its veteran cast and emerging supporting actors. Truman Hanks does a fine job as young Otto but needs to be much more passionate about the craft of acting if he wants to make a career (which I understand he isn’t). Tom Hanks’ veteran status as an award-winning actor keeps the story on track while keeping the eye rolls to a minimum. Only he can keep this narrative as grounded as it was.
Considering the plot surrounds Otto’s repeated failed attempts at suicide, I will say I was a wee bit weepy at the end. However, there’s a lot of goodness on display, and the woke moments were at least incorporated into the story and not merely virtue signals. It’s all on par for high-end Hallmark films.
A Man Called Otto is not for the hardcore cynic, though maybe it should be (it worked for the Grinch). It’s a heartwarming tale about finding life after loss and finding the good in others. Unfortunately, like a Hallmark film, it’s wrapped up in a lot of schmaltz.
"…not for the hardcore cynic, though maybe it should be."