Everyone has that moment in their life when they go through a personal change. Whether at the highest of the highs or in a valley of your own, a personal life phase can certainly dictate what could happen in your future. With influences as small as a change in music to something as big as heartbreak, it could lead to a change in character, lifestyle choices, interpersonal connection, and more. I, for one, can definitely say that I’ve had my own highs and lows, ranging from being temporary to permanent, even up to writing this review! But for one man, it definitely takes a lot to handle change during a personal phase.
A Man Called Otto is an dra-medic adaptation of Fredrik Backman’s novel A Man Called Ove. The film follows Otto Anderson (Tom Hanks) during a reclusive period of his life, leaving him a bitter, old man. However, his life slowly changes with the arrival of his new neighbors, who seek to help and get along with Otto in any way they can. As Otto faces several obstacles, from dealing with obnoxious real estate agents to coping with a severe loss, new neighbor Marisol (Mariana Treviño) tries to help him settle with the present while persevering towards his emotional transformation.
Luckily for A Man Called Otto, there are several upsides to this modernized adaptation that holds this movie together. For one, the main cast is mostly stellar, with Treviño as the biggest standout with perfect comedic and serious timings as the optimistic Marisol. Pairing with Hanks’ Otto throughout the movie perfectly delivered the deep, emotional core this movie needed. On the other hand, Hanks was mostly okay portraying the pessimistic Otto. However, at some points, the comedic moments almost made Otto somewhat unserious, making him a caricature of his real self. The rest of the main cast does well with what they’re given, but the scriptwriting sours their personal impact on Otto’s story.
Fortunately, the movie has its exceptional moments, particularly with Otto’s backstory. Though the overall visuals may seem a bit cliche, these scenes were beautiful to watch as Otto and Sonya’s (Rachel Keller) intimate connection resonated close to home. It’s even more terrifying when you realize what’s actually happening to Otto during these flashbacks as it tugs on your heartstrings.
These scenes, during their present moments, bear their own growing tension, each one being more serious than the last. Sometimes, it may be a bit overdramatic when observing the balance between the seriousness and the humor. One second, you’ll have Otto reminiscing depressingly about his life with Sonya and the next you’ll have him punch a clown in a hospital. I get that the comedic, familial moments are supposed to provide a lightheartedness to the story, but I felt some emotional whiplash as these mixed scenes played out. Nonetheless, in my opinion, this balance works out just fine.
Besides some of the underdeveloped, trope-y writing, there are some other pitfalls that this adaptation can’t climb out of. In particular, the final act of the movie certainly tries to create a strong conclusion, but it falters in its execution. If you know your usual TV dramedy movie, then you’d have some idea of how A Man Called Otto‘s third act plays out. All the main characters encountered come together to confront the supposed ‘bad guy’ in hopes to create something good. Now, it does have a promising motivation and set-up with Otto’s personality change, but the isolated-ness makes the build-up feel slightly undone. If the movie focused more on the dramatic tone, it could have worked out wonderfully, but I don’t really see that tone coming out as much as it should’ve.
Furthermore, the writing doesn’t account for some of the main cast outside of Otto, Marisol, and Sonya. Particularly, Marisol’s husband Tommy (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) felt mostly like a one-dimensional sideman with an outgoing attitude. I would’ve loved to see the interpersonal relationship between Marisol and Tommy grow beyond the positive tropes, but then again, the writing holds back that potential to move forward. Other characters, like Jimmy (Cameron Britton) and Kenzie (Kelly Lamor Wilson), also suffer from the same thing and the single-personality writing felt ultimately unimpactful.
However, there was one character that had some developed potential: Malcolm (Mack Bayda), a transgender teen who Otto grows a mutual respect for. The scenes that we do get between Otto and Malcolm certainly made the movie feel more inline with its emotive core, but they don’t develop it more outside of the sequential briefness. These scenes bear a resonance that calls on social relatability to make the moving have a lasting impact, but the exploration of this plotline stops in the final act. We only get brief mentions of outside events that impact this connecting storyline, but yet again, the comedy cat strikes and shoves its presence to move the movie’s plot forward.
In the end, I just wished that the side characters had a bit more development to create that dramatic core. It’d also help if the comedy was pulled back because, to be honest, it didn’t reach the line it wanted to.
Overall, A Man Called Otto is a pleasant and serviceable adaptation of a wonderful story rooted in displaying a personal, emotional transformation. Sure, some parts of the movie are dragged out using the usual dramatic tropes, but it certainly has its hits through its softer, interpersonal moments with its main characters. Tom Hanks and Mariana Treviño make quite the entertaining duo with their contrasting roles, but they definitely help reinforce the movie’s dramatic core with their empathetic performances. Though it may have its shortcomings, I can say that this movie left my (metaphorical) heart a few sizes bigger.
A Man Called Otto heads to Blu-ray and DVD on March 14.