REVIEW: ‘A Man Called Otto’ is moving, but clichéd

This film is an adaptation of a book written by a Swedish author in 2012. I have to imagine he watched 2008’s “Gran Torino” and 2009’s “Up” before putting pen to paper.

Tom Hanks stars as Otto, a man who recently became a widower and lives day-to-day thinking there’s not much left for him in the world. Otto is rather grouchy and quite particular in his old age. For example, he doesn’t want anyone driving on the private road in front of his home.

He begins to loosen up, though, when he’s approached by a young, friendly couple and their two daughters. The matriarch of the family, Marisol (Mariana Treviño), especially forms a bond with Otto, helping him to find more in life again, which leads him to start helping others around the neighborhood.

That lede was not really a joke. There’s a grumpy, lonely widower who at his core is a good guy and is won over by friendly neighbors and their cute kids. It’s a very familiar premise, and it’s clear from the get go where this cinematic journey will eventually go.

The main conflict in the movie is also fairly pedestrian, as it features a big bad developer wanting to build new homes in the area where Otto lives. It’s a standard antagonistic issue in film and goes the way a viewer would expect.

However, that doesn’t mean the movie doesn’t have anything complex to offer audiences. Early on, viewers learn that Otto’s life has become so empty without his late wife that he’s considering ending it all.

Again, the big bad developer coming in is standard stuff. However, thanks to its lightheartedness and charming characters it’s a flick that can win a person over. Watching Otto begin to lighten up over the course of the movie and become more interested in assisting his neighbors is heartwarming.

Courtesy Sony Pictures and Columbia Pictures.

It’s a bit of a darker aspect to a movie that for the most part is telling a heartwarming tale overall. It should be noted that the film doesn’t use this subject to focus on depression or suicide. Instead, the movie is more of an exploration of the impact loneliness can have on a person who has lost their significant other.

It adds another layer to Otto’s character and makes his growth over the course of the picture feel more meaningful. Watching him manage to open up and rediscover the happier, gentler man he used to be is endearing.

It certainly doesn’t hurt that the film has two-time Oscar winner Tom Hanks in the cast lineup, either. Hanks doesn’t deliver a career best here, but Otto is really a man with a heart of gold, and if there’s anyone who can get that type of character right, it’s the guy known as America’s Dad. 

However, Hanks is definitely not carrying this whole movie by himself. The supporting cast does pretty good portraying a quirky array of characters. That’s especially true with Treviño, who nicely captures her character’s sweet nature and optimism. She provides a very good foil to Hanks.

Even though it retells a story that has been told in other forms before, and runs longer than it necessary due to more flashbacks in the film than needed, “A Man Called Otto” turned out alright. As a piece of light entertainment, it’s not too bad at all, especially thanks to the cast. It’s fine to catch at a matinee. 3.25 out of 5.

Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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