starring Tom Hanks, Mariana Treviño, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Mike Birbiglia
screenplay by David Magee, based on the novel A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman and the film A Man Called Ove written by Hannes Holm
directed by Marc Forster
by Walter Chaw "Get out of here while you can," the old man snarls to the stray cat. "I'm not your friend." But of course he will befriend the kitty, because you don't introduce a stray cat at the beginning of a manipulative piece of happy-go-fuckery like A Man Called Otto without it becoming one catalyst of many for the objectionable curmudgeon's development of a renewed reason for living. You could say that every character in A Man Called Otto is similarly a collection of adorable quirks and bottomless patience designed exclusively for the redemptive salvation of our man Otto. Otto, who is Tom Hanks's second shot at playing someone on the neurodivergent spectrum, this time landing somewhere just south of the elder Paul Newman, in the neighbourhood of Walter Matthau (at the corner of Richard Russo and Garrison Keillor). On his first date with his dead wife (Rachel Keller), a scene played in flashback by Hanks's other other son, Truman (who is less like a cross between Hanks and Rita Wilson than between Colin and Chet), Otto's asked what he's passionate about and says he's interested in machines and how things work. Forced into early retirement as the picture opens, he's a dedicated engineer obsessed with details--yet he doesn't understand that if he wants to hang himself from a rope looped through a ring hook in his living room, he needs to use a support beam in the ceiling or else what you know is going to happen will happen. Then he blames the hook. I know it's a Better Off Dead gag, but it's also inconsistent writing meant to extort a response like Thomas Newman's emotive/emetic tongue bath of a score. If you turned the concept of "insincere pathos" into a music box, this is the noise it would make. It conjures the images of teddy bears finding a baby next to a river. Look, if Thomas Kinkade paintings came with soundtracks...
My god, this benighted remake of Hannes Holm's not-good-the-first-time Swedish film A Man Called Ove (itself based on a book I will never read by Fredrik Backman) is over two full hours long. Two hours of Cameron Britton in a jogging suit crashing into every scene he's in doing the full Kramer: high-stepping jauntily, coming down with a real bad case of a cat allergy that sainted neighbour Marisol (Mariana Treviño) can cure with an old prescription her cuddly oaf of a husband, Tommy (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), has kept from a past run-in with bees. Marisol is pregnant with the couple's third child--the first two precious little moppets with whom Otto forges a touching bond in his emotionally remote way. Let me give you an example of why A Man Called Otto is terrible: One night while babysitting Marisol's kids, without comment Otto fixes the family's broken dishwasher (remember, this man does not know that a hook drilled into drywall won't support a man's weight). Tommy discovers it's working after Otto leaves and, rather than leave it as something he notes wordlessly and let the moment end on a grace note, director Marc Forster, never known for his discretion or emotional maturity, loops in Tommy marvelling, "How did he do that?" The musical sting? Delighted! It's a movie made for people in comas. Also consider how Kate Bush's "This Woman's Work" is used to score a bus accident that changes a young Otto's life, suggesting a woman's work is...getting seriously injured in a bus accident and having a miscarriage? The flashback to the mass transit incident is mirrored with old Otto Hemingway-ing a shotgun while the ghost of Sonya gives an inspirational speech about the importance of living, damnit. Maybe this is this woman's work, being the ghost of plot device past for the exhausted bildungsroman of a miserable piece of shit with a heart of gold.
Eventually, to a jaunty mandolin-and-guitar ditty that is very much like an outtake from the "Northern Exposure" soundtrack, neighbourhood trans kid Malcolm (Mack Bayda)--we know he's trans because two of his first three dialogue blocks in the film have him stating it--shows up on Otto's doorstep asking for a place to stay. Otto is mean! Otto relents. Then Otto decides he's going to help his elderly African-American neighbours, Reuben (Peter Lawson Jones) and Anita (Juanita Jennings), with some insurance/care issues that threaten their independence. Otto is mean! Otto relents. He overshares with Marisol so she'll let him use her telephone. He is mean, but he relents. Once he stops trying unsuccessfully to kill himself and bitching about how kids these days are always on their phones, he enlists the help of an influencer (Kelly Lamor Wilson) to publicly shame some corporate villains. And did I mention Otto has an enlarged heart? He has an enlarged heart--"hypertrophic cardiomyopathy," to be precise. Yes, this Grinch's heart is at least one size too big. It's a Chekov's heart, if you will, meaning when it comes time to tie all the (heart)strings together at the end of this shameless dreck, Otto has a heart attack. Credit where credit's due, A Man Called Otto has the decency to laugh at itself about this one. If only it had the decency not to have a hilarious "going into labour" scene torn from Ivan Reitman's Fathers' Day and scored with an insulting mariachi band. Those Mexicans having babies, amiright? Hanks deserves better than this. We all do.