A Man Called Otto hits US theaters on January 13, 2023.
There’s no way to avoid it; Otto (Tom Hanks) is old. We first encountered him at a local DIY store trying to buy some rope, with hilariously grumpy results. Imagine a curmudgeonly old man who refuses to keep up with the times and takes it out on everyone around him. A man named Otto it is exactly that… at least, at first. But you will soon discover that it is actually a film that explores the grim existence of an old man who is trapped in limbo, one life after another in which he has lost his place in the world. Fortunately, it isn’t long before you find a new one. While it’s a perfectly heartbreaking setup, it doesn’t bring much else to the table, leaning into old tropes and a simple plot to tell a straightforward story about old curmudgeon Hanks.
When the Mendes family moves across the street, Marisol (Mariana Treviño), her husband Tommy (Manuel García-Rulfo) and their two daughters ruin Otto’s life. They are the annoying cheerful neighbors who always want to borrow a wrench or need help with a window. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what happens next, as director Marc Forster uses almost every cliché in the book to emphasize Otto’s changing outlook on life.
But let’s back up for a moment. Between tubs of cookies and childcare requests, we learn that Otto is desperately sad. He lost his wife, Sonya (Rachel Keller), less than a year ago, and he’s a shadow of the man he once was, who we learn about through a plethora of flashbacks. In some ways, it’s easy to compare A Man Called Otto to one of Hanks’ most famous movies: It’s basically the anti-Forrest Gump.
Otto is definitely on the opposite end of the happiness spectrum, but he is more than that. A Man Called Otto highlights all the great successes of Otto’s life, but begins at the opposite end of a life lived. Through flashbacks, we learn why Otto is the way he is, as well as discover more about the love of his life…and exactly why she meant so much to him.
The problem is that nothing truly unique happens here. That’s not to say A Man Called Otto isn’t a decent enough movie: it tugs at the heartstrings in all the right places, and it’ll be hard to walk out of the theater dry-eyed by the end. But it’s not exactly full of twists and turns; quite the opposite. The final act is telegraphed from a million miles away, and it all looks all too familiar.
Based on the New York Times bestseller, A Man Called Otto does everything you’d expect… but little else. Forster does his best to inject some life into the proceedings in the form of some curiously eccentric locals. Unfortunately, the rather cheesy elements of finding a new family and the unbearably elaborate metaphors liberally intertwined distract from any originality he might find. There are even scenes of the literal changing of the seasons, to add to some of the not-so-subtle metaphors. Yes.
Thankfully, Hanks is typically in fine form as Otto, lending an air of seriousness to what could be a surprisingly vulgar role. Instead, Hanks walks a fine line between lovable curmudgeon and eccentric geriatric, with a lot of his trademark heart thrown in for good measure. A debut performance by his son, Truman Hanks, is less impressive. Not that there’s anything wrong with his performance, but Truman suffers from having little to work with: Much of his role revolves around cooing over the love of young Otto’s life, gull-eying the pretty girl, and following her around. , unerringly, wherever you go. she can go. Not exactly an actor’s wildest dream.
Still, it proves adequate, if nothing else…and with some heartwarming performances from Otto’s neighbors, the cast carries this decidedly unremarkable tale on their capable shoulders. Throw in some really funny moments in its unexpectedly witty script, and there’s enough to make the movie worth watching.
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