A Man Called Otto Review
5 mins read

A Man Called Otto Review

A Man Called Otto hits U.S. theaters on Jan. 13, 2023.

There’s no getting around it; Otto (Tom Hanks) is old. We first meet him at a local DIY store attempting to buy some rope, with hilariously cranky results. Imagine a curmudgeonly, elderly man refusing to get with the times and taking it out on everyone around him. A Man Called Otto is exactly that… at least, at first. But you’ll soon find that it’s actually a film that explores the bleak existence of an elderly man who’s stuck in limbo – a life after life where he’s lost his place in the world. Thankfully, it’s not too long before he finds a new one. While it’s a perfectly heart-wrenching set-up, it doesn’t bring much else to the table, leaning on old tropes and a simple plot to tell a just-okay story about Hanks’ old grouch.

When the Mendes family moves in across the street, Marisol (Mariana Treviño), her husband Tommy (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), and their two daughters throw Otto’s life into disarray. They’re the annoyingly perky neighbors who always want to borrow a wrench or need help with a window. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out what happens next, as director Marc Forster uses just about every cliché in the book to hammer home Otto’s changing outlook on life.

But let’s back up for a moment. In between tubs of cookies and requests for babysitting, we learn that Otto is desperately sad. He lost his wife, Sonya (Rachel Keller), less than a year ago, and he’s a shadow of the man he once was, who we learn about through a liberal helping of flashbacks. In some ways, it’s easy to compare A Man Called Otto to one of Hanks’ more famous films – it’s basically the anti-Forrest Gump.

Otto is definitely on the opposite end of the happiness spectrum, but it’s more than that. A Man Called Otto highlights all the greatest hits of Otto’s life, but it starts at the opposite end of a life lived. Through flashbacks, we learn why Otto is the way he is, as well as find out more about the love of his life… and exactly why she meant so much to him.

The trouble is, there’s just nothing truly unique going on here. That’s not to say A Man Called Otto isn’t a decent enough film – it tugs at the heartstrings in all the right places, and you’ll be hard-pressed to walk out of the theater with dry eyes by the end. But it’s not exactly full of twists and turns; quite the opposite. The final act is telegraphed from a million miles away, and it all feels perhaps a bit too familiar.

Based on the New York Times best-seller, A Man Called Otto does everything you expect… but little else. Forster does his best to inject some life into proceedings in the form of some curiously eccentric neighbors. Unfortunately, the rather twee elements of finding a new family and the excruciatingly labored metaphors laced liberally throughout distract from any originality you might find. There are even scenes of the literal changing of the seasons, to add to some of the not-so-subtle metaphors. Yeah.

A Man Called Otto is ultimately a formulaic comedy-drama that leans far too much on tried and tested cliches.

Thankfully, Hanks is in typically good form as Otto, lending an air of gravitas to what could be a startlingly pedestrian role. Instead, Hanks walks a fine line between loveable grouch and eccentric geriatric, with plenty of his trademark heart thrown in for good measure. A debut performance from his son, Truman Hanks, is less impressive. Not that there’s anything wrong with his acting, but Truman suffers from having little to work with – much of his role revolves around cooing over the love of young Otto’s life, making doe-eyes at the pretty girl and following her, unerringly, wherever she may go. Not exactly an actor’s wildest dream.

Still, he proves himself to be adequate, at least… and with some stirring performances from Otto’s neighbors, the cast carries this decidedly unremarkable story on its capable shoulders. Throw in some truly funny moments in its unexpectedly witty script, and there’s just enough to make the film worth watching.

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A Man Called Otto is ultimately a formulaic comedy-drama that leans far too much on tried and tested cliches. A charismatic central performance from Hanks elevates the movie, albeit slightly, with standout performances from Mariana Treviño and Cameron Britton. A tight script punctuates Otto’s misery with some truly memorable comic moments, and Forster wrangles the potentially miserable tale into something far more uplifting. A Man Called Otto is often gut-wrenching and sometimes even charming, but it just fails to bring much new to the table. If you can enjoy it for what it is, you’ll be rewarded with a sweet tale of an old man losing his place in the world only to find an entirely new one.