'A Man Called Otto' Review
January 11, 2023
In the realm of professional basketball (NBA), there’s always a bit of controversy surrounding the award for Most Valuable Player (MVP). There are no clear-cut criteria for how the award should be given to a player, begging the question: how do you define the term “most valuable”?
For some people, “most valuable” means the most impactful player on a great team (people want to vote for winners). For others, it simply means the player who played the best during the season, no matter if their team is good or bad (Russell Westbrook averaged a historical triple-double during the 2016-2017 season, despite his team barely making the playoffs). And for the real purists, “most valuable” should always go to the player that would hurt their team the most if they didn’t play. Objectors to this mindset claim that LeBron James would then just win every year, as the Cleveland Cavaliers lost 40 more games in both of the seasons after he left the team.
All of these mindsets can also be extended to the acting Oscar races, specifically this year’s race for Best Leading Actor. Voters that think Best Actor should go to the best performance in a great movie will likely side with Colin Farrell in The Banshees of Inisherin. The voters that think the award should go to the best performance, regardless of the film’s quality, will likely be split between Brendan Fraser in The Whale or Austin Butler in Elvis. And I suppose the purists that think the award should go to the actor that saves their film the most might be inclined to look toward Tom Hanks in A Man Called Otto because no one else in that titular role would have been able to make something out of nothing like Hanks does.
Thinking of Tom Hanks, a.k.a. America's dad, as a grumpy old widower sounds like an impossible endeavor. After all, this is the same man that preached simple goodness in Forrest Gump, spread childlike wonder in Saving Mr. Banks, and literally played Mr. Rogers in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. But Hanks has no trouble shifting towards the side of bitterness and resentment. Of course, this old grump still has a heart of gold tucked underneath a cold exterior, so it’s not like Hanks is going totally outside his comfort zone.
Otto serves as the unofficial meter maid, recyclable sorter, grievance giver, and overall Debbie Downer of the little row-house development he inhabits with his neighbors, who all try their best to stay out of his way in fear of being berated. Someone that won’t just roll over like the rest is Marisol (a wonderful scene-stealing Mariana Treviño), who just moved into the neighborhood with her husband and two kids, with a third on the way. Marisol’s good nature and excellent cooking chip away at Otto’s gruffness over time, and an unlikely relationship begins to form.
The way in which A Man Called Otto goes about its business should come as no surprise to any viewer. Screenwriter David Magee (pulling off triple duty this year with this and The School for Good and Evil as well as Lady Chatterley’s Lover), takes an overzealous approach to using a sander to smooth out the dark edges within the bestselling novel and 2016 Swedish film A Man Called Ove. There are a few cloying moments meant to tug at the heartstrings, and some heavier themes that are mentioned rather than examined. Director Marc Forster tries to rationalize Otto’s behavior with frequent flashbacks to his younger days, where he’s played by Tom’s real-life son Truman. The physical resemblance might be there for Truman, but the acting chops certainly are not, making the connection between the younger and older versions of Otto fuzzy at best.
A Man Called Otto is a family affair for the Hanks clan, with Rita serving as producer and dishing a few songs on the radio. Even wild Chet gets a cameo with his “White Boy Summer” blasting from the car of a trashy side character. It’s doubtful that any family watching A Man Called Otto will get as much out of it as the Hanks’, but I also doubt any family will also be harmed by it either.