Life alone isn’t easy, especially if you are a man called Otto living in a grey and orderly neighbourhood. Directed by Marc Forster, A Man Called Otto is a dark comedy movie that breaks down human relationships, loneliness, and offers a strangely lighthearted commentary on depression. But, despite all its layered themes and a dazzling performance by Tom Hanks, much like its setting, the new movie struggles to escape feelings of the mundane.
The second film adaptation of the 2012 novel A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman, A Man Called Otto, follows the life of a grumpy and newly retired widower. Otto is an acquired personality. He likes rules to be followed and isn’t afraid to confront neighbours or strangers who bend the regulations of his beloved street. But, despite his daily rounds and checking his sidewalks, Otto feels aimless – leading him to attempt to take his own life.
However, with his new neighbour Marisol (Mariana Treviño) moving in across the road, everything changes. Once he starts opening up to the new, friendly face, his ghostly and disgruntled life begins to have colour once again.
A Man Called Otto is truly a one-character focus type of movie. The narrative revolves around Otto’s growth and personality first and foremost, often leaving secondary characters in the dust and to be underdeveloped.
Sun-soaked flashbacks reveal the sweet relationship with his deceased wife, which shaped Otto’s current personality, and sharp bursts of Otto’s grumpy but kind, compassionate values filter into the present day.
All of these scenes highlight that there is more than meets the eye with our protagonist and ultimately paint a decent portrayal of mental health. You never know what someone is going through, and first impressions can often be misleading.
Tom Hanks brilliantly plays with our emotions, showing this character development in a non-caricatured and serious way. However, the heavy subject matter never feels overwhelming as small dark jokes are also injected into the script – all of which Hanks delivers with excellent timing.
Otto’s suicide attempts keep failing, and every time he does, the film leans into the comedic tragedy of the situation. Most of these moments inspire a slight chuckle and keep the narrative from crushing audiences’ emotions too early on in their cinema trip. However, while the Tom Hanks movie‘s handling of depression is commendable and the comedy a good idea on paper for a lighthearted film – A Man Called Otto’s tone feels a tad directionless as a result.
We never fully sympathise with the tragedy of Otto’s emotions as his actions are always undercut with a comedic beat. And similarly, the punchlines aren’t prominent enough to let us embrace the film as a true black comedy. A Man Called Otto’s script also struggles in its portrayal of characters aside from Otto and Marisol. Otto’s neighbours and other figures he meets tend to feel like two-dimensional cutouts, offering convenient plot development out of the blue.
Attitudes towards Otto also cause some whiplash, as the drama movie introduces Otto as unlikeable, with most of the neighbourhood disliking or avoiding him. Then without any real prompt, Otto is widely embraced, and his true nature is finally realised. It is all a bit too convenient. And while screenwriter David Magee does a great job at telling Otto’s internal story, the outside world’s change towards the character feels forced and robotic.
Ultimately, A Man Called Otto is a fine film where Hanks proves yet again why he is considered one of Hollywood’s brightest stars. The drama movie is touching but never truly remarkable. However, with a comforting portrayal of its themes and an emphasis on community, it is still a cosy watch at the cinemas to enjoy.
A Man Called Otto hits UK cinemas on January 6 and US theatres on January 13. For more new movies, here is the list of 2023 movies that we can’t wait to see. If you haven’t booked a cinema ticket yet, head to our guide on how to watch A Man called Otto.
If you or a loved one are struggling, help can be reached. In the UK and Ireland, contact Good Samaritans by calling 116 123. In the US, you can get in touch with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
A Man Called Otto review
Tom Hanks shines in an unassuming film about loss and loneliness.