Tom Hanks Plays a Grump Called Otto
Grumpy people are everywhere these days. In fact, two-time Oscar winner and all-around likable guy Tom Hanks (Forrest Gump, Philadelphia) may be the only one who catches us off-guard when he’s grumpy. Here, Hanks plays Otto, the neighborhood curmudgeon who patrols the community daily drenched in full-fledged annoyance over topics like pets, recycling, traffic, and parking. In fact, Otto is annoyed by most people and just about everything they do.
A Man Called Otto is an American remake of the Oscar-nominated Swedish film, A Man Called Ove (2015), which featured a terrific titular performance from Rolf Lassgård. Both films have been adapted from Fredrik Backman’s novel, A Man Called Ove, with writer-director Hannes Holm behind the 2015 version, and screenwriter David Magee (Life of Pi, 2012) and director Marc Forster driving this one. Mr. Forster has previously directed some interesting and diverse movies including, Monster’s Ball (2001), Finding Neverland (2004), Stranger than Fiction (2006), The Kite Runner (2007), Quantum of Solace (2008), World War Z (2013), and Christopher Robin (2018).
We join Otto on his morning rounds, and that’s when we witness his constant annoyance on display, while also meeting some of his neighbors like Jimmy the friendly power walker (played by Cameron Britton), as well as the ultra-friendly new neighbors, very pregnant Marisol (Mariana Trevino), her husband Tommy (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), and their herd of young kids. There is also Otto’s estranged friend Reuben (Peter Lawson Jones), who is now very sick, his wife Anita (Juanita Jennings), and Malcolm (Mack Bayda) a local boy whose parents kicked him out because he’s transgender. Malcolm has a connection to Otto’s late wife, and it’s her passing that has not only caused Otto’s personality to shift into grump mode but also pushed him to explore ways to join her ‘in a better place,’ although he can’t quite manage the next step.
Marisol is really the major force in the story, as her unrelenting friendliness and persistence in connecting with Otto, slowly breaks down his defense as he finds a reason to live. Director Forster uses flashbacks to help us understand Otto’s background. Hanks’ own son Truman Hanks plays him as a young Otto, while Rachel Keller portrays young Sonya, the girl that wins his heart. A devastating personal tragedy can certainly impact a person to the point where their personality and outlook changes; however, we also see how a positive influence, here with Marisol, can help pull someone out of a dark emotional hole.
Tom Hanks (coming off his roles as Colonel Tom Parker in Elvis and Geppetto in Pinocchio) is so familiar to moviegoers that it’s comical to see him go full grump, although it should be noted that he’s more Walter Matthau in The Bad News Bears (1976) or Grumpy Old Men (1993) than he is Clint Eastwood growling “Get off my lawn” in Gran Torino (2008). In other words, despite some similarities to About Schmidt (2002), the film is never quite as dark as it portends, even with Otto’s congenital heart issue and the redevelopment threats from the perfectly named Dye & Merica Real Estate Company. This is designed and presented as a sentimental mainstream film that is easily relatable, and it will undoubtedly have that appeal.