See the compassion of community in “A Man Called Otto”

Published 11:30 am Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Working his way into our hearts this week is “A Man Called Otto,”, an earnest and engaging film, starring the ever-adored Tom Hanks in the titular role of Otto. This film is an American remake of the Oscar-nominated 2015 Swedish film “A Man Called Ove” (Holm), which in turn was based on the bestselling 2012 novel of the same name by Fredrik Backman. 


The story told in the film has captivated the hearts of audiences twice now, and this third foray is no exception. Well-received by both critics and audiences alike, “A Man Called Otto” has managed to sidestep the dilution of the artistic product that can so often plague the Americanized remakes of foreign films. 

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The narrative of the film is simple on the surface, but becomes deeper as the film progresses. Otto, the story’s protagonist, is a grumpy old man with a capital “G,” who lives in a cookie-cutter condo complex in suburban Pittsburgh. Yet, despite all the convention and predictability of the life he inhabits, Otto finds a no shortage of grievances to err and fights to pick, no matter how small or specific the fights may be. This prickly exterior has made him a less-than-beloved fixture amongst his neighbors. However, when a newly arrived family in the neighborhood attracts Otto’s ire, they inadvertently begin to expose cracks of humanity in his hardened exterior, giving way to the compassion underneath. 


In finding the charm to Otto’s personality the film capitalizes on Hanks’s unrivaled ability to inhabit the qualities of the everyman, a talent he has retained his whole career, despite the echelons of his fame. Hanks’ ability to still convey such a natural and lived-in quality to his characters brings a fullness and richness to the performance of Otto. The “angry old man” can be an easy stereotype. However, to be able to believably convey the suffering and dissolution from life that can produce such a stereotype is far from easy. 


“A Man Called Otto,” despite its humor, reaches depths of sadness that effectively stir the heart. Ultimately, while still being a comedy, it is not a film for the faint of heart, emotionally speaking. There is no shock to be experienced here, but there is a poignant and lived-in sadness. Luckily, it’s balanced out by genuine optimism and hopefulness that rewards the viewer for opening their heart to the film’s more melancholic moments, rather than punishing them. 


We at the theater adored the original Swedish version of the film, and are positive that “A Man Called Otto” will similarly capture our hearts. We hope to see you there and share in both the laughter and the possible tears!