Is Tom Hanks the problem? I wondered as I watched, confused A man called Otto. But as this heartwarming drama about an old riot with a heart of gold unfolded before me, it became clear that Hanks wasn’t the problem. It’s a symptom of saccharin that makes this quote from Fredrik Bachmann’s darkly comic Swedish novel A man named Oof Nothing fluffy.
Search for Neverland Director Marc Forster and screenwriter David Magee are reunited a man named Otto, which stars Hanks as an embittered widower–once forced into retirement–determined to die by suicide. If only all the idiots in his neighborhood would stop interrupting him! This may seem like a shockingly dark introduction to one of America’s most beloved leading men, but the casting of Hanks is itself a warning sign of the unbearable softening of offits sharp edges. Forster and Magee hack Blackman’s novel, carving out much of Otto/Off’s tragic backstory, and with it plenty of darkly funny observations from the book’s omniscient narrator.
how is he A man called Otto different from A man called Ove?
Gone are the difficult childhoods, the crushing death of the father he idolized, and the fiery loss of their home. And with them also went a lot of explanation as to why the protagonist is such a mean, mean guy, the kind of guy who’s always on the alert for thieves or crooks. He’s a man with (both literally and psychologically) trauma, which has given him a tough exterior, not easy to touch. So, in the book, when the cracks in that coldness begin to show through with an act of kindness here or a word of warmth there, it is as if the sun is shining on a wintry day. It feels as if hope and salvation are palpable. Not only are many of Ove’s tragedies cut out of the story, but also those of his neighbors, which means that the American film refuses to properly obfuscate. Without that depth, Otto’s character arc is infuriatingly shallow.
Tom Hanks makes a feline friend in the latest trailer for A Man Called Otto
In flashbacks, Forster leads us to young Otto’s love for his wife Sonja, who loved books and was the light of his life. But without proving the darkness that stemmed from their love, Sonya becomes a rush of sweet femininity, all smiles, warmth, and gentle flirtation. Likewise, cutting into a dramatic storyline between Otto and his elderly neighbors kills the tension of settings around vehicular rivalries and even the film’s spirited climax. Without specifying the whereabouts of these people, how can we estimate their progress?!
Hanks played a bastard here (a league of their own) or there (Elvis), but his reputation as America’s father telegraphs the end of the film before it begins. Otto may growl at retail staff, bark at a UPS driver, and berate an angry pet owner for her unruly dog urine. But because we know he’s Tom Hanks, we’re pretty sure he’d never do anything truly horrible. And he won’t, which is our loss. The altered screenplay warms us up, adding valid motivations for some of Ove’s most shocking behavior from the book. Ovi’s banality was part of what made the book so interesting, because sometimes you do Is that true You want to punch a clown in his nose, even if he’s tough. Or at least you want Ove to do it for you! That sense of humor is lost, and left A man called Otto Fun but not funny.
A man named Ottos His sense of humor and heart are lost in translation.
Moments that meant so much in the novel — such as the local children giving the hero a loving nickname — are undercut in the film by occurring almost instantly. Nothing gains him when Hanks threatens to smile at the beginning of Act Two. Even worse, the emotionally closed Ove is given a lazy scriptwriting makeover. To keep some of Bachman’s fine prose out of the narrative, Otto is no longer the stern silent type, but instead a chatterbox eager to overindulge given the least chance. Nothing develops in A man called Otto. It’s essentially a call and response, as if the healing power of a community happens overnight or the soul-wrenching weight of grief can be shed as easily as a winter’s coat. Honestly, A man called Otto insult.
Forster doesn’t believe his audience can appreciate the story of a real-life bastard who rediscovers a reason to live. Perhaps he did not trust that American audiences could bear the full grief of Ove’s youth to earn the great radiance of his revival. Anyway, Magee’s script tapers off the edges of Ove to make it less of a bastard and more of a catch. The stakes are lowered. Side stories are shaved off for time or to keep things light, but in any case, they kill off the dimensions of the original story. Even Otto’s sparring partner of choice—a nosy pregnant immigrant (the kinetic Mariana Treviño) who relentlessly pats the walls he’s put up (along with his front door)—is hilariously glamoured, smoothing out her levity with sugary smiles galore.
Imagine if the Grinch didn’t steal Christmas and was just grumbling about the holiday market. Or what if Scrooge wasn’t so poetic about his hatred of the poor? Will their changes of heart be affected just as harshly? Were their stories worth telling? Maybe to Forester.
Sadly, this feel-good movie falls flat because it never lets us feel that Bad. Gestures of sadness and regret are not enough to make the feelings hit us at our core. Putting down the story of a suicidal man in unfailingly humble garters feels more rambunctious than convoluted, regarding his problems as something of a quick fix. And though Hanks is committed to the lead role, he can’t escape his generational persona of being a believable son of a whore. Without such salinity, which made A man named Oof exhilarating A man called Otto It feels infuriatingly lethargic and downright stupid.
A man called Otto Opens in select theaters December 30th and runs January 13th.
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