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A Man Called Otto is an earnest attempt to tug at your heartstrings

Sayoni Ghosh reviews Tom Hanks' latest film, A Man Called Otto, where he plays his grumpiest role yet. She explores the film's message and Hanks' compelling performance.

By Sayoni Ghosh, MA English Literature

Adapted from Fredrik Backman’s bestselling novel A Man Called Ove (2012), A Man Called Otto is about an idiosyncratic sixty-three-year-old widower named Otto Anderson (Tom Hanks). Although Otto has his life in order, he fulfils the grumpy old man stereotype in his need to control and criticize anyone who fails to follow civic rules. But there is something deeper that he struggles with under his superficial unfriendly demeanour.

A Man Called Otto // Courtesy of IMDB and Columbia Pictures

As he prepares to hang himself, it is clear that he struggles with loneliness and the grief of losing his wife, Sonya (Rachel Keller), six months ago. This plan to end his life is, however, foiled by his new neighbours, Marisol (Mariana Treviño) and Tommy (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), whose inquisitive and jolly nature is a stark contrast to Otto’s bitterness.

We are shown flashbacks of his relationship with Sonya from their younger days, and as we see Otto talk to his wife at her grave with his headstone next to hers, it is clear that he has lost his will to live with his love no longer by his side. Yet any attempt to commit suicide is coincidentally and conveniently interrupted, and Otto instead ends up lending a helping hand to those around him.

A Man Called Otto // Courtesy of IMDB and Columbia Pictures

As we see him become close to Marisol’s family, we realise that underneath his cold façade, Otto has a warm and caring heart. He realizes that even though he says that he does not need anyone, people need him, and that should be reason enough to want to live.

Otto teaches us that sometimes we get wrapped up so much in our own troubles we don’t think about anyone else and believe that no one is thinking about us. But that is never the case. This film may explore themes of suicide, loneliness, grief and loss, yet it still manages to remain feel-good.

A Man Called Otto // Courtesy of IMDB and Columbia Pictures

Tom Hanks never fails to move viewers with his performances, and even though there are many predictable moments in the film, we still end up loving Otto and supporting him the whole way through. His superb performance reminded me of Carl Fredricksen (Ed Asner) from Pixar’s Up (2009).

I walked into the theatre as an ardent Tom Hanks fan and walked out adding this film to the list of his best performances with the message, ‘Take action for yourself and be there for others.’

Mariana Treviño shines most during her quiet moments and proves that it is high time for filmmakers to stop portraying Latino women in films as constantly loud, noisy and feisty. The supporting cast all give convincing performances and are able to show us how there is beauty in the nuances of people that we come across every day.

Indeed, what I loved most about the movie was the blooming friendship between Otto and Marisol, which shows one can find family in the most unlikely of people and situations. It is at these moments in particular that the writing by Academy Award-nominated screenwriter, David Magee, feels impactful.

A Man Called Otto // Courtesy of IMDB and Columbia Pictures

The music, too, packs a punch; Thomas Newman’s score beautifully compliments the heartfelt ambience of the film, and Rita Wilson’s single ‘Til You're Home’ conveys the power of human connection, which is so evident throughout the plot.

Where the movie slightly faltered, in my opinion, was in its abrupt tone shifts and unbalanced pace, obstacles that are difficult to overcome for many filmmakers when adapting a novel for the big screen. The sudden tone shifts between scenes sometimes affect the narrative, but it does mean that the source material is treated faithfully with compassion and sincerity.

If you are looking for an inspiring, humorous and poignant film that can help restore your faith in humanity, do give this one a watch. It will feel like a warm hug in this cold weather.

Featured Image: IMDB and Columbia Pictures

Will you be watching Tom Hanks' newest performance as Otto Anderson?