A Man Called Otto is enjoyable yet as impressive as a disc laying in a Best Buy Blue Ray bin. Based on Frederick Backman’s novel A Man Called Ove, director Marc Forster makes a picture that Tom Hanks can’t elevate on his own. From the incredibly long opening credits to the foreseeable ending, A Man Called Otto is a movie that will probably escape your mind after seeing it. It’s like a flick you stumble across when flipping channels and vaguely remember. One of those “oh yeah, that thing where Tom Hanks was grouchy. What else is on?”
Somewhere in a remote neighborhood block is an apartment complex’s grinch, Otto (Tom Hanks). Otto is a man who follows the rules to the bitter end. He’s lived in the same apartment complex for countless years and doesn’t want to be bothered. He doesn’t have to be polite to anyone and chooses to be a hermit. Why Otto’s a grouchy introvert is predictable (cough, cough Up). You don’t have to be a cinephile or cinema adjacent to see where A Man Called Otto is going.
The new residents moving into Otto’s complex get on his nerves. Marisol (Mariana Treviño) has moved into with her partner. Marisol’s colorful persona gets on Otto’s nerves, yet Otto continues to help her. As cranky as he may seem, Otto has a heart of gold. He’s the Grinch And Ebeneezer Scrooge wrapped into one. A metaphor taken quite literally when Otto’s heart problem is that it’s too big for him to live. Otto is a man who’s dying that wants to speed up the process. There’s nothing left in his life that gives him happiness. The one thing that gave Otto content died decades ago.
After losing Sonya (Rachel Keller) in his early twenties, Otto has become increasingly curmudgeon. Now an older man, Otto has no friends. The only thing he has left is his apartment building which Otto’s willing to let go of before killing himself. Trying to boot his neighbors from the complex is a company called something that sounds like “die America.” The locals are forced to move out of their residence, and it’s up to Otto to rescue them. Not a hero or even a likable man, Otto does what he can to protect his neighborhood. When a favor is asked, Otto is there to help. He’ll be rude about it, but Otto comes through.
Each element in the plot happens to the convenience of the script. Otto doesn’t want to be bothered, but his new neighbors can’t stop insisting on troubling him. Somehow, Otto’s unpleasant demeanor doesn’t drive them away. In reality, no neighbor would ever bother saying more than a few pleasantries to him. But since this is a film, Marisol will disrupt Otto’s peace any chance she gets. If I had a neighbor so disruptive, I’d be grouchier than Otto. So perhaps Otto is a more patient man than most others. It’s predictable from the first scene where the story is going making for some snoozy entertainment. We know Otto will eventually warm up to his neighbors, and he won’t be grouchy forever, despite trying to be.
If there’s an element that works in the storytelling, it’s how grim the material gets. Otto is through enjoying life, so he’s decided to end it. Like everything else in Otto’s life, suicide doesn’t go the way he wants. The botched suicide attempt displays the film’s darkest humor which is when the film shines on its own. There are hints of Otto’s generosity when trying to end his life. For instance, when attempting to hang himself, Otto leaves the floor covered in newspapers, so he doesn’t leave dust from the ceiling sprinkled all over the place. Better to die without inconveniencing others. No need to leave a mess on the wood.
Unfortunately, the rest of the film feels like a conventional feel-good flick with a plot more predictable than a rerun of A Christmas Carol. The movie can’t stand on its own two feet. It’s mildly humorous and painfully formulaic. There’s not much to be said about A Man Called Otto. What’s on the frame is enjoyable for a late-night channel stumble but not an expensive night at the movies.
A Man Called Otto opens in theaters nationwide January 13