Hanks goes grumpy in “Otto”

A Man Called Otto (Tom Hanks, Mariana Treviño) – Fredrik Backman’s book, A Man Called Ove, was an international sensation, spending 42 weeks on the New York Times’ Best Seller List. It spawned a wonderful Swedish film by the same name that was nominated for an Oscar as Best Foreign Film. It earned $3.5 million in the U.S. and $30 million worldwide.

Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson, Hollywood’s “first couple,” watched Ove and decided it was right up their alley. They formed a production company, Artistic Films (supplementing his Playtone studio), bought the rights from a small Swedish studio and produced A Man Called Otto. They hired successful director, Marc Forster, who helmed Finding Neverland, Monster’s Ball, Stranger Than Fiction and The Kite Runner, and convinced an actor named … Tom Hanks … to star.

The two movies are almost identical. The Swedish film is more highly rated by critics and viewers but, really, they have the same feel and similar creative treatments. However, the new version has Otto instead of Ove and doesn’t require subtitles. And did I mention that it stars America’s favorite guy, Tom Hanks?

A Man Called Otto could have been named Grumpy Old Man but there was another movie with two grumps, one of whom was Walter Matthau, who would have been perfect in this film had he not been … you know … dead (too soon?). The problem with the American version is that we all know Tom Hanks is “the nicest guy in Hollywood.”

His serious roles, of which there are many, specialize in his character’s earnestness (Bridge of Spies, Saving Private Ryan, The Post, Philadelphia, Captain Phillips), likeability (Forrest Gump, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood), and everyman good nature (Sully, Larry Crowne, The Terminal). Grumpy, curmudgeon, and kvetch are not words we associate with him.

The Swedish film has the advantage of a star, Rolf Lassgård, who nobody in America knows. That anonymity helps Ove; Hanks’ familiarity hurts Otto. From the beginning, we know that Otto is going to turn into a nice guy after all. We know that the foreign family that moves in across the street will win his heart. We know that his utter sadness over losing his wife will eventually be replaced by finding the reason to live on.

That makes for a very predictable, but nonetheless enjoyable, story that audiences will love. You’ll shed a tear; forget that it’s cold, rainy or snowy outside; and go home smiling once again about the latest Tom Hanks film. Like Ticket to Paradise, a breezy, star-studded feel-good film, A Man Called Otto is a welcome placebo amidst a pandemic, political polarization, and pitiful populism.

Lest my alliteration becomes pedantic (it might be too late), I suggest you take a couple of hours to watch A Man Called Otto with pop and popcorn in hand. 

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