Cert – 15, Run-time – 2 hours 6 minutes, Director – Marc Forster
Having given up on life after the passing of his wife, Otto (Tom Hanks) finds himself constantly interrupted by his disorderly neighbours, especially recently-moved-in Marisol (Mariana Treviño) and her family.
Perhaps one of the reasons 2015’s A Man Called Ove works as well as it does is because of the dead-pan manner in which it treats much of its themes. The ideas of grief mix well with the humour because of the direct and related manner in which they are dealt with. The tone feels fitting and connected, and most importantly embedded within its source country. However, in this English-language remake – based on both the source novel and the 2015 adaptation – the American sensibilities remove the dead-pan nature in favour of a heightened sense of mawkishness. The humour is far more pronounced, especially in its division from the clearer sentimentality which is on display.
Tom Hanks takes on the lead role of Otto, an aging man who despite trying his best to keep order within his closely-built cul-de-sac finds his life constantly interrupted by his neighbours. He’s built his daily rounds and activities on protecting the street from the increasing presence of housing developers who are prowling the area. However, since the death of his wife Otto appears to have given up on life, seemingly more intent on somehow joining her. Yet, his attempts to end his life are constantly interrupted by the noisy activities and disturbances of recently-moved-in Marisol (Mariana Treviño) and her family.
There’s a strong feeling throughout the film that perhaps this wouldn’t have been made if it wasn’t for the involvement of Tom Hanks (who also serves as a producer). He’s certainly the main draw, and the core reason you stay engaged with the unfolding narrative. In fact, perhaps without him the various shifts in tone from pushed comedy to unrestrained drama – largely appearing in the same scene yet never at the same time, creating a clash in the join – mean that without Hanks if this film had happened there may be a weaker piece which you disengage from quickly.
However, much of this is in the first half of the film. As we enter the second half, particularly the final 40 minutes, things appear to change and become slightly more controlled. The observations made in the flashbacks to Otto’s past – the unforced highlights of the film – begin to echo through as the dramatic course begins to take more of a hold without feeling so pushed. In fact a number of the elements appear to line-up together to create something with a generally better sense of flow. While we might get in exchange some crowbarred lip service relating to a trans character (Mack Bayda) taught by Otto’s wife, we get a less-loud performance from Treviño (who for the first half of the film is an early frontrunner for most annoying character of the year) and in hand more stripped back conversations and interactions between her and Hanks.
It’s these moments which are quieter and less reliant on Thomas Newman’s score. Music is part of the reason the first half of A Man Called Otto feel so forced. Placed at almost every opportunity to tell the viewer how they’re supposed to be feeling at each moment, as if the nature of the dialogue isn’t already shouting it enough. And while things may still be watchable, largely thanks to Hanks’ presence, these issues revolve around the mind. It certainly makes for a mixed bag as a whole, especially when arriving in the latter segments of the piece. While things are generally watchable throughout there’s no denying the way the various issues and inconsistencies in tone circle the mind when dominant within the narrative.
Luckily, as mentioned, things do improve. There may still be some downsides and elements which stop you from fully engaging with the characters, but there’s enough to keep you in place and stop the film from dropping and losing your attention overall. Perhaps it’s following the course that Otto himself travels along as he becomes less upfront and agitated by his neighbours, or at least less disgruntled and mistrusting towards them. If so then to some extent it’s worked, but perhaps to too strong a degree as we almost feel how the central figure does towards those around him and the events that unfold instead of properly connecting with him. Regardless, you may well know how things will turn out because it’s Tom Hanks in the lead role, and he’s very much the force that lifts things up.
With a mawkish first half dominated by forced humour and sentimentality, you’re kept in place for A Man Called Otto thanks to Tom Hanks’ presence, leading you into the more direct and balanced second half of personal drama.