Review: ‘A Man Called Otto’ opens his heartbroken heart

Based on the international bestselling book, “A Man Called Otto” starring Tom Hanks is the English language remake of the 2015 Swedish film “A Man Called Ove."

"A Man Called Otto" movie poster
"A Man Called Otto" stars Oscar-winner Tom Hanks as a hard-to-love grumpy widower. The movie is playing at Lakes 12 Theatre in Baxter.
Frank Lee / Brainerd Dispatch
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BAXTER — It’s hard not to like Tom Hanks. But if there’s one person who could make moviegoers rethink the way they feel about the beloved actor, it would be Hanks.

The Oscar-winner gets grumpy in “A Man Called Otto,” an English language remake of the 2015 Swedish film “A Man Called Ove,” which itself was a feature film adaptation of the 2012 novel by the same name by Fredrik Backman.

Based on the international bestselling book, “A Man Called Otto” is a tragicomedy for perhaps more mature audiences who have experienced love and loss, and the bittersweetness that comes with it. And given that I’ve had more than my fair share of late, I appreciated the film.

Frank Lee
Frank Lee

Moviegoers are introduced to the dour Otto Anderson, “a grumpy widower whose only joy comes from criticizing and judging his exasperated neighbors,” according to an official synopsis of the film, which is a bit of a departure from the usual affable characters Hanks seems to play.

His neighbors seem unusually and inexplicably tolerant of Otto’s curt and rude ways, despite his unsavory reputation and his rebuffs at kindness, friendship or closeness as exemplified by their repeated attempts to get him to open up by, say, coming over to their homes for dinner.


Hanks, in fact, so inhabits the character of Otto that it is initially very off-putting to see the comedic actor who has hosted “Saturday Night Live” several times come off as an idiosyncratic crank apparently not worth getting to know.

But the residents’ acceptance of Otto — including that of an exercise enthusiast who high steps around the neighborhood, the wife of a former friend beset by health problems and especially an extroverted new neighbor played by Mariana Treviño — find the goodness in him.

Otto clearly believes he has nothing to live for. He disconnects the utilities of his residence, skips out on his retirement party and does other things that indicate a man in severe distress — at the end of his proverbial rope and, in one instance, literally.

There are many unsettling scenes in the motion picture, which is rated PG-13, of Otto’s ultimately unsuccessful attempts to commit suicide or take his own life in the privacy of his home or garage. Those attempts are thankfully interrupted by apparitions of his wife.

Treviño’s two young girls also bring some joy into the isolated Otto’s life. The woman, who is expecting her third child, enlists Otto as a babysitter who proves up to more than the task. Also, she asks Otto, an automobile enthusiast and engineer, to give her driving lessons.

“Living” is a new drama starring English actor Bill Nighy a veteran civil servant who receives a terminal diagnosis from his doctor and decides to live it up with the help of a plucky young woman.

As anyone who has taken driving lessons from, say, one of their parents, suffice it to say things do not go so smoothly for the wife and mother and Otto as they take trips together to destinations she drives them to and eventually gets him to open up about his tragic past.

Treviño and her young family and the neighbors rally around Otto, whose backstory is told through flashbacks, including his romance with his late wife. The young Otto is played by none other than Truman Hanks, the elder Hanks’ 27-year-old son making his acting debut.

The motion picture is a family affair of sorts because it is produced by Hanks’ Playtone production company and his wife actress Rita Wilson is also listed as a producer.


“A Man Called Otto” currently has a 68% approval rating among critics and a 97% approval rating among audiences at Rotten Tomatoes, a review-aggregation website for film and television.

The consensus from the critics at "Check all cynicism at the door and allow ‘A Man Called Otto’ to tug at your heartstrings with its tried-and-true tune — it just might sing."

FRANK LEE may be reached at 218-855-5863 or at . Follow him on Twitter at .

I cover the community of Wadena, Minn., and write articles for the Wadena Pioneer Journal weekly newspaper owned by Forum Communications Co.
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