Review: A Man Called Otto

A Man Called Otto

How many men in the U.S. are named Otto? Though it may sound like a trivial question, it kept nagging at the back of my consciousness while watching Marc Foster’s Americanization of the hit Swedish heartwarmer A Man Called Ove, about a curmudgeonly suburban homeowner who terrorizes his neighbors with his fastidiousness. Obvously, a name like Ove was too arcane for a story set in Ohio, but Otto, with its harsh abruptness, is still a shade Teutonic, especially when the character is being played by Tom Hanks. Moreover, Otto’s late wife, played in flashbacks by Rachel Keller, is named Sonya, thus indicating that maybe this particular neck of the rust belt is filled with the children of Scandinavian immigrants, but no such explanation is forthcoming. Yeah, I know, I think too much, but what bothered me is that Foster and his screenwriter, David Magee, wanted to somehow honor their Swedish source, and in doing so just kept inviting comparisons, for which Otto came up short.

The problem isn’t so much Hanks but rather his indelible image as someone who represents all that’s wonderful about America, so that even as he tries to act the asshole, yelling at people who park improperly and lording over HOA meetings like a tyrant, you see Otto’s point and don’t necessarily blame him for his gruffness. In the Swedish version, Ove really was an insufferable bastard, so when the reason for his unpleasantness was revealed, it hit hard. Here, we already suspect that Otto is basically a good person who has somehow been traumatized into a get-off-my-lawn state of mind, and no subsequent revelation is a surprise, especially when, only minutes into the film, we see Otto attempt suicide in a comical way. It’s also obvious because the neighbors he berates don’t react defensively, because they know Otto is suffering to a certain extent, especially Marisol (Mariana Trevino), a Filipino immigrant who has just moved into the condo complex with her family and immediately recognizes in Otto a damaged soul that she can rescue from despair. The rest of the movie is an excavation of the source of that despair, which is effective without being particularly original in concept.

And there are “bad” people in A Man Called Otto, but their sins are those of opportunism, and while that particular attribute isn’t limited to Americans, it’s the kind of triggering character flaw that Hollywood relies on too much. Hanks’ earnestness actually saves the movie from itself, but his participation—not to mention that of his son Truman, as a younger version of Otto in flashbacks—is also something that kept nagging at the back of my consciousness. I knew exactly where this movie was going, and you will, too. 

Opens March 10 in Tokyo at Toho Cinemas Nihonbashi (050-6868-5060), Toho Cinemas Chanter Hibiya (050-6868-5001), Toho Cinemas Shinjuku (050-6868-5063), Cinemart Shinjuku (03-5369-2831), Toho Cinemas Shibuya (050-6868-5002), Toho Cinemas Roppongi Hills (050-6868-5024).

A Man Called Otto home page in Japanese

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