Tom Hanks does some spectacular growling in A Man Called Otto. This being Marc ‘Quantum of Solace’ Foster’s soupy remake of the acclaimed Swedish dramedy A Man Called Ove, which was itself an adaptation of the book by Fredrik Backman. English translations of Scandi hits rarely justify their own existence and Otto, with a tone’s as chaotic as your local neighbourhood’s Facebook group and excess of saccharine, is no exception. And yet, it’s a beautifully cast affair. Oddly touching too. Not to forget the ample chuckles, some black as charcoal. Plus, there really is no getting past that spectacular growling.
Hanks is the titular Otto. Not a common name but one he hears plenty. Everyone knows Otto. He’s that guy. The one who checks the cars on his street each morning to make sure each has the due permit for parking. The one who rearranges the neighbourhood recycling into its correct containers and chastises all on the street for their frustratingly lax attitude to rules and regulations. Idiots. All of them. Otto’s also the man who interrupts his suicide in favour of showing his new neighbours how to correctly parallel park a tow truck. This is that film.
At the same time though, it isn’t. Hanks is terrific in the against-type role of old curmudgeon but so obviously good at heart that there’s never any doubt where the film is going. What’s more, David Magee’s script toes so formulaic a line that all hope of sharp wit is blunted. Otto is too light a film to merit its handling of dark themes and too dark a film to justify just how wholesome it all feels. The mix is uneven and the result is pleasant, charming, a heart warmer and workmanlike crowdpleaser. Only one that could catch the wrong person on the wrong day with the most horrific of guy wrenches.
It’s arrival of twee, interfering husband and wife Tommy (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) and Marisol (Mariana Treviño – delightful) across the road that promises change for Otto, who harbours a grief beneath the grump. Tommy’s the inept driver that steals Otto from his first go on the noose. Marisol’s the mother of two, soon to be three, who takes him under her wing and might well just remind him what it is to be alive. Others play their part too. Young trans star Mack Bayda is Malcolm, the try hard kid in need of a break, while Juanita Jennings and Peter Lawson Jones are Anita and Reuben, a declining duo on the brink of eviction from their own home. If nothing else, A Man Called Otto serves to remind what a community can do when they rally together.
Through all these distractions – not to mention some honey soaked flashbacks to a kinder past – the film belongs to Hanks. Freed of the all American persona that has become a hallmark of each role he takes, the Saving Private Ryan favourite relishes the opportunity for rudeness. If rude’s the word. Unfiltered fits too. It’s a performance loaded with ticks, scowls, growls, and very particular way of walking. ‘I am not,’ he insists, ‘unfriendly’. Scenes without Hanks suffer from his absence, even if these so often, ironically, feature his real life son. Truman Hanks plays Otto in his youth. When the film’s early energy falters mid-runtime, you’ll long for a Hanks delivered Otto-ism.
Whether by manipulation or the sheer force of the narrative flow, it’s hard to resist the basking glow of Otto’s final bow. Think It’s a Wonderful Life meets The Grinch and add a syrupy spoonful of Dickens. Remove the Christmas, keep the snow and you’ve got it. That doesn’t exactly make for a masterpiece but a lump in the throat is guaranteed.