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  • Writer's pictureMatt Conway

A Man Called Otto: Review

A Man Called Otto Synopsis: Otto (Tom Hanks) is a grump who's given up on life following the loss of his wife and wants to end it all. When a young family moves in nearby, he meets his match in quick-witted Marisol (Mariana Treviño), leading to a friendship that will turn his world around.

In the wake of his wife's passing, surly curmudgeon Otto displays undying dedication to his daily routine of ensuring pristine standards in his suburban neighborhood. While his abrasive edge alienates many, Otto begins to open his heart after sparking an unexpected friendship with new neighbor Marisol and her loving family in A Man Called Otto.

A Man Called Otto is the latest Hollywood attempt at mining movie magic from a successful international film (2015's A Man Called Ove, which is based on Frederick Backman's 2012 novel of the same name). I can see why studio executives saw crossover appeal in Ove, as the film illustrates an empathetic portrait of a down-on-his-luck elder rediscovering life amidst a kind-hearted community.

Following closely in Ove's footsteps, A Man Called Otto enjoys similar success onscreen. Director Marc Foster and screenwriter David Magree shepherd an infectiously sincere dramedy that always rings true with heartfelt sentiments.

I will warn readers now, A Man Called Otto won't be for everyone. The film dispenses a thick syrup of saccharine emotions across its runtime in its pursuits of a feel-good narrative. This choice creates an inherently shmaltzy feature that can be victim to simplifying complex human dilemmas and embracing straightforward, Hallmark-esque solutions.

Yet, underneath the familiar tropes, A Man Called Otto still possesses an undeniable heart. I give Foster significant credit for always steering the narrative ship on track. The Stranger Than Fiction director has a knack for balancing moments of somber truths with radiant rays of emotional sunlight peeking around every corner. Several scenes that could feel mawkish in the wrong hands connect with genuine impact thanks to his patient touch behind the camera. Best of all, Foster trusts his material's strengths enough to disavow obnoxious techniques, such as screeching score choices and maudlin moments of melodrama.

Magee's screenplay is equally accomplished. The writer's adaptation of Backman's novel boasts surprising ambition as he juggles Otto's complex history alongside his relationships in the neighborhood. To his credit, each central ensemble character is well-personified within his screenplay, often boasting the intriguing shading of thoughtful details to enrich their presence. I also appreciate Magee's sharp thematic focus. Ruminations on the connective power of community and men's masculine penchant to bury emotional distress under endless busy work are effectively realized throughout A Man Called Otto's runtime.

All of these promising elements create an excellent canvas for the film's accomplished cast. Tom Hanks is beloved as an affable everyman, but the role of Otto distorts his happy-go-lucky charms in a welcomed change of pace for the actor. Despite his rugged exterior, Otto transforms into an empathetic force under Hanks' sturdy guidance. The actor displays his remarkable gifts for unearthing aching emotions and bright humor within even the most rigid of characters. Co-star Mariana Treviño imbues effervescent light into the role of Marisol, while Mack Bayda, Cameron Britton and Juanita Jennings skillfully personify their supporting roles as regulars in Otto's neighborhood.

A Man Called Otto displays enough goodwill and intellect to make for a winning crowdpleaser.

A Man Called Otto is now playing in theaters.


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