By Marie Fricker
A Man Called Otto – 3.5 stars
Tom Hank’s latest film, A Man Called Otto, is totally predictable, but engaging nonetheless. As in every other role he’s played, Hanks masterfully portrays a 63-year-old widower from suburban Pittsburgh, who, in the depths of mourning the recent death of his wife, wishes only to add his name to her gravestone.
The movie begins with a sour-faced Otto making his morning rounds at his dreary complex of identical rowhouses. He pauses frequently to berate neighbors who have parked in the wrong spaces or let their dogs pee on his grass. Later, he heads to work at his steel company where he has been edged into “voluntary” retirement, and slams the door on his coworkers as they try to give him a going away cake.
The next stop is a local hardware store, where he meticulously measures and cuts a piece of heavy rope with a pocket knife, and publicly rips into a young clerk for charging him 28 cents too much. Otto returns home, makes the rope into a noose and attaches it to his ceiling. He gets up on a table, pragmatically ties the noose around his neck and kicks the table from beneath him. The movie shifts into slow-motion as his life flashes before him, with Hanks’ real-life son Truman Hanks playing the young Otto.
The noose falls from the ceiling and suicide attempt number one is foiled. Several more follow, but each is unhinged by the interference of other people. Immediately after the failed hanging, Otto spies a new family moving into his complex and attempting to park a U-Haul in front of their unit. Frustrated at watching the husband hit the curb repeatedly, he runs out and tells the man to get out of the car, and gets in and parks it for him. “You idiot,” he hisses, as he hands him back the keys.
Otto wants nothing to do with these new neighbors, but the wife, Marisol, a bubbly, heavily pregnant mother of two, played by the highly likable Mariana Trevino, brings him homemade meals and gradually wins him over. As you might predict, Otto regains his purpose and a new zest for life.
Hanks never smiles once in this movie, but his character’s humanity comes through as he reluctantly rescues a stray cat, teaches his Mexican neighbor how to drive, goes to bat for some elderly residents being railroaded out of the community, and helps out a troubled transgender teen who delivers his newspaper.
If you like Tom Hanks (and who doesn’t?) you will like this movie. Although the director, Mark Forster, really pulls out the violin strings for poignancy in this film, it seems to have worked. Many of the theater-goers around me were wiping their eyes with tissues when the credits rolled.
A Man Called Otto is an American remake of a 2015 Swedish film based on the book A Man Called Ove, by Fredrick Backman.
Marie Fricker is a South Shore resident whose lifelong love affair with movies began in the Capital Theater in Arlington in 1964. She has a master’s degree in print journalism from Boston University and is a published author.