A Man Called Otto is a comedy-drama about an old man finding new reasons to move forward even in his old age. It’s based on a Swedish novel called ‘A Man Called Ove‘ adapting the story to an American setting.
Comedy dramas can be a hard thing to get right, needing a good balance between the goofiness of the comedic scenes and the emotional moments of the drama. A Man Called Otto will be a very subjective film in this regard as it attempts to combine hard-hitting subject matter with quirky, somewhat cliched characters and an overall feel-good message that might not mix well with some moviegoers. I however thoroughly enjoyed the film for these reasons. Otto presents a well-executed wholesome story about re-discovering the joys of life complete with a great cast all around.
A Miserable Day In The Neighbourhood
The film revolves around Otto Anderson (Tom Hanks), a miserable old man, who’s a stickler for the neighborhood rules and wants to commit suicide following the death of his wife (Rachel Keller). A new family, however, moves in across the street consisting of a pregnant wife Marisol (Mariana Treviño), her husband Tommy (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), and their two kids. While Otto initially writes them off, Marisol continues to ask him for favors, allowing him to open up to the people in his life and reveal more of his back story.
The film is a slow-burn, slice-of-life story with an adult edge, following Otto over the course of a few years as he starts bonding with his neighbors. I can see people irritated with Otto’s grouchy boomer remarks but I found the humor pretty funny like when he says it’s ok for Marisol to crash into another car because it’s a hybrid. There’s also a great jab at journalists that had all the journalists in the preview screening laughing in their seats. That being said, there are many more emotional and cute moments that make you route for the characters.
The overarching plot of the film revolves around a real estate company that Otto has a grudge against that caused a rift with his neighbors and old friends, Anita (Juanita Jennings) and Reuben (Peter Lawson Jones). It’s not a big subplot but when it’s confronted at the climax it comes with a satisfying pay-off that brings the various characters together.
The movie is very much a character study of Otto. I can see some people finding him too grumpy at first but the film does a good job of showing why he’s like this and how he develops out of it. Even near the start you slowly realize that while Otto might grumble a lot but he’s almost always willing to help people when they’re in need and he can’t stand injustice.
Throughout the movie, Otto attempts to commit suicide in multiple different ways from hanging to carbon monoxide poisoning in his car. During these morbidly comedic scenes, his life flashes before his eyes and you see flashbacks to him as a young man. You learn about his difficulties finding work, how his wife made him a better person, and how things took a tragic turn as the years went on. Each suicide attempt however is foiled by his neighbors needing him to help them with something.
The film slowly peels back the layers of Otto. You see him at his worst but also sympathize with him. He lost his wife, he has no family, and he has a hard time navigating the modern world, a legitimate problem that many senior citizens have. You also see him slowly appreciate his friends and how he learns to slowly value them as his new family.
A lot of that is thanks to the great acting of Tom Hanks. He has really honed his craft as older grandpa characters in movies like A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood and he does a good job here. Otto is blunt and brutal but Hanks plays his kind and vulnerable sides just as well.
Meet The Neighbours
The film is further bolstered by a great supporting cast that while a little cartoony, really sell each role and contributes to Otto’s development.
The secondary lead is Marisol, Otto’s new Latina neighbor is the only person to speak back against his bullshit and see the good but lonely man underneath, pulling him over for favors from borrowing ladders to teaching her how to drive. Mariana Treviño does well playing a sweet wife and mother that is able to bounce some optimistic energy against Hank’s dire demeanor.
Aside from her you also have her wife and kids, the eccentric neighbor Jimmy, an older couple Anita and Rueben who Otto used to be friends with, and Malcolm, a trans high schooler with a troubled home life who Otto’s wife taught at school. There’s also a stray cat he is begrudgingly forced to adopt.
Each is able to show more dimension to Otto and play off him in different ways whether that’d be confronting the past or helping to move towards the future. They’re the kind of quirky neighbors you wish you could have, the ones that are legitimately your friends and go out of their way to help you in bad times. I can see some people finding them too quirky or unrealistic but they fit in with the small-town suburban vibe the movie is going for.
A Man Called Otto
I think the biggest issue A Man Called Otto has is that some people might find that the drama clashes with the comedy. It tackles some hard topics like depression, suicide, and loss and lifts them up with quirky characters and hijinks. The film doesn’t really get into serious talks about these subjects instead going for a more feel-good tone. With that in mind, I can see some viewers finding it a little too sappy to take seriously.
Maybe I’m just a sappy guy myself, but I thought ultimately manages to balance the two tones well. It does a good job of exploring Otto as a character and explaining his personality and backstory in a way where even if you don’t like his attitude, you can understand why he’s like that. It’s satisfying watching him develop and build warmer relationships with the other people in his life.
If you’re looking for a tragic comedy with some genuinely heartfelt moments, Otto is a man who’s worth paying a visit to (even if he really just wants you to leave).
A Man Called Otto is playing in cinemas across Malaysia.
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- The story has a good mix of funny and heartfelt moments
- Tom Hanks is brilliant as Otto
- The supporting cast likewise gives strong performances
- Otto might be a little too grouchy in the beginning for some people
- The humor/quirky writing may occasionally clash with the darker themes.