“A Man Called Otto” could be called “A Man Called Tom Hanks Plays a Grumpy Old Man.”
The alternative title better reflects the thrust of the film.
Sure, there’s a bit more to “Otto,” including the revelatory message that, yes, grumpy geezers are people, too. But, while you’re watching it, it’s hard to shake the sense that the movie is mostly just a vanity project for the Tomster to act all curmudgeonly.
From the “Finding Neverland” team of director Marc Forster (also “Monster’s Ball”) and screenwriter David Magee (also “Life of Pi”), “Otto” (PG-13, 126 minutes, in theaters) is a remake of the Oscar-nominated Swedish film “A Man Called Ove,” which was based on a Fredrik Backman novel.
In this Americanized version, Otto Anderson (Hanks) is disgusted with the world and everyone in it. The self-appointed Deputy Dog of the neighborhood association, he’s a stickler for all rules – parking, trash disposal, etc. – and will run out onto the street to bark at anyone who breaks them. He’s the epitome of the “Get off my lawn” sourpuss.
More alarming, though, is that Otto, a widower who spends a lot of time talking to his wife at her gravesite, has decided to end it all. At least, it would be alarming if we believed his suicide attempts posed any real danger. But we know they don’t. For one thing, if any were successful, “Otto” would be a mighty short movie. Also, they just aren’t convincing; you just know they’re setups. And if director Forster is going for dark laughs here (on the order of Harold’s outrageous attempts at self-destruction in the classic “Harold and Maude”), he fails.
Enter his new neighbors: Marisol (Mariana Trevino), who’s pregnant; her husband, Tommy (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo); and their two young daughters. They’re likable and friendly, which seems to baffle the ever-negative Otto. When Marisol calls Otto on his rudeness and he claims he isn’t rude at all, she responds, sarcastically, “Every word you say is like a warm cuddle.”
Marisol is persistent in trying to forge a friendship with Otto, though, and … well, you can guess where this is going.
And that’s pretty much the case with everything in this film. Everything seems predetermined. (Of course, all movies are predetermined; they’re following a script. But we’re usually not supposed to be made so conscious of this.)
The film has good intentions. It encourages people to care about each other, to find meaning in helping each other. It’s … nice. Harmless.
But it’s also too contrived, pretty much from start to finish. ** (out of four)
** Click here for Tim Miller’s previous movie columns for Cape Cod Wave **
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Tim Miller is co-president of the Boston Society of Film Critics. He teaches film and journalism at Cape Cod Community College in West Barnstable. You can contact Tim at [email protected] or follow him onTwitter @TimMillerCritic. Or you can ignore him completely.