A Man Called Otto review — Grumpy Hanks picture charms despite itself

Directed by Marc Forster | Written by David Magee, based on the book A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman and the film A Man Called Ove written and directed by Hannes Holm | 126 min | ▲▲▲△△ | Crave

The Swedish film from 2016, A Man Called Ove, was a bit of a surprise. I’d call it the quintessential loveable grump movie, about a rule-following misanthrope desperate to kill himself so he can join his recently deceased wife, all the while making his neighbours a bit nuts with his compulsions. It had a lot of great gags, and served as a window into being a senior citizen in Sweden, the aging boomer who needs to adapt or die. One of the best jokes was about the fundamental difference between Saab owners and Volvo owners.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the joke doesn’t really work when it’s transposed to Ford and Chevy, nor that some of that biting Swedish sophistication feels a lot more squishy and sentimental when Hollywood decides to remake the picture. Putting that aside, this is a sweet movie that allows Tom Hanks to show us yet another colour we’ve never seen from him before. He and the supporting cast win even with familiar conventions.

Otto is missing his wife, Sonya, who worked as a teacher (Rachel Keller, only seen in far flashback). Those glossy recollections also feature Hanks’ son, Truman, as the young Otto. The casting makes sense, especially when Truman’s mother, Rita Wilson, is a producer here, but weirdly he doesn’t look or act a whole lot like his dad.

What we see of Otto and Sonya’s early days are almost unbearably wholesome, but we’re only seeing them through Otto’s eyes, so maybe that also makes sense — rose coloured and all. In the present day he’s miserable without his wife and doesn’t see a future for himself.

His new neighbours won’t let him be, however. A new family moves in next door — Marisol and Tommy (Mariana Treviño and Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) and their super-cute little girls — and they ingratiate themselves. There’s the trans kid (Mack Bayda) who was a student of Sonya’s and who delivers newspapers to the neighbourhood. And then there’s a stray cat who needs love, of course — though a scene where the kitty hangs onto Otto’s slacks is incredibly chintzy.

It’s not alone. The schmaltz here is laid on thick. Of course the adorbs family is going to chip away at Otto’s crusty exterior, of course he will fail and fail again to kill himself, and of course he’ll find a reason to live and rejoin the little community around him, and maybe even learn a thing or two about life and what’s still important.

Is it as caustically funny as the Swedish version? Not even close. Is it wildly predictable? Yes.  Even so, I couldn’t help but enjoy myself.

Mariana Treviño is great fun as the matriarch of the new neighbour family, playing the biggest role here aside from Mr Hanks Sr, while Hanks himself remains a marvel of his craft. When a convenient villain rears its ugly face — real estate developer goons! — it gives Otto someone to fight and a reason to go on. And while I didn’t care for many of the more heartstring-pulling choices of songs in the movie, you can never go wrong with Kate Bush’s “This Woman’s Work.”

The only thing about A Man Called Otto that really got me down is this undeniable fact: We now live in an era where Tom Hanks is playing senior citizens, characters who could possibly kick off by natural causes. That makes me feel old and grumpy.

About the author


Carsten Knox is a massive, cheese-eating nerd. In the day he works as a journalist in Halifax, Nova Scotia. At night he stares out at the rain-slick streets, watches movies, and writes about what he's seeing.