A MAN CALLED OTTO l Sony Pictures Canada | January 13, 2023
Starring: Tom Hanks, Mariana Treviño, Rachel Keller, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo
Directed By: Marc Forster
When a lively young family moves in next door, grumpy widower Otto Anderson meets his match in a quick-witted, pregnant woman named Marisol, leading to an unlikely friendship that turns his world upside down.
REVIEW BY: Darren Zakus
A Man Called Otto is a wonderful surprise to start off the new year with, delivering a deeply moving and touching tale of love and loss, featuring two great performances from Tom Hanks and Mariana Treviño.
I will be first to admit that I was not entirely sold on A Man Called Otto from the trailers. Tom Hanks is truly one of the greatest actors of our time, but watching him simply be grouchy in the trailers had me questioning whether there was going to be anything more to the film. I had an inkling there had to be, if this story had already been adapted in Sweden from the best selling novel, and there is a reason why Hanks and his producing partners decided to bring it to American audiences: it is a truly crowd pleasing film that will have audiences simultaneously getting emotional while leaving the theatre feeling true joy.
The film follows an elderly man named Otto, who is very particular in his ways and on the outside just seems to hate the annoying people he is surrounded by and the vulturous real estate agents trying to force him to sell his house so they can build condominiums. In reality, Otto is mourning the recent passing of his wife, struggling to find a reason to keep living, until a young family moves in across the street from him. At first Otto views the family as a nuisance, but as he slowly gets to know them and helps them in their day to day life, Otto’s true caring and helpful personality begins to show, helping Otto remember the person he was before his wife passed.
Despite the film having a run time that is slightly over two hours and probably could have been trimmed down by about ten or fifteen minutes, I thoroughly enjoyed the story being told. Playing around themes of love, loss and friendship, the story is deeply moving and heartfelt at every turn. While grouchy on the outside, you feel Otto’s heartbreak as he struggles to find a reason to keep living with the recent passing of his wife. What was once a very happy and love filled life has turned cold, but the screenplay does a wonderful job of capturing the small moments in life that truly show who a person is, despite the image they create for themselves. At the same time, the screenplay manages to weave in moments from Otto and his wife Sonya’s past, showing the joy that once filled Otto’s life that he is now mourning the loss of. While the character arc for Otto is predictable, it’s a beautiful arc over the course of the film that will warm your heart as you watch Otto rediscover the caring person he used to be. So much so that I found myself holding back tears at multiple points in the film, before failing in the film’s final moments and shedding a few tears because of the overwhelming emotions of the story’s conclusion.
The film would not be so moving without Hanks in the leading role. Anyone can play a grouchy old man for laughs, which is one part of Otto’s character. While Hanks does this with ease, he does something much harder to do at the same time: he infuses that grouchiness with true heartache. This allows the audience to feel Otto’s pain and suffering long before they learn about the passing of his wife, creating a three dimensional character rather than the stereotype that could have been if the performance missed bringing the pain to the character. It is subtle, but it underpins all of Hanks’s performance, making Otto a remarkable character that you can’t help but feel for.
As much as Hanks is the star of the film, the film relies heavily on his pairing with Mariana Treviño who stars as Marisol, the mother of the family who moves across the street. Bursting with warmth and compassion, Treviño is the perfect balance to Hanks. While she is the overbearing neighbour, her persistence and sass makes for some great comedic yet heartfelt moments. Capturing the vision of what a joyful and loving life could look like for Otto, Treviño is absolutely delightful every second she is on screen. Opposite Hanks, the two of them are truly exceptional as a pairing, creating a true connection on camera to bring this beautiful story to life.
The film belongs to Hanks and Treviño, who have the meatier roles in the story, but the supporting cast is still charming. Hanks’s own son Truman Hanks is the perfect younger version of Otto, capturing the mannerisms of his father’s performance very well, while Rachel Keller is radiant as a younger version of Sonya. Manuel Garcia-Rulfo is the perfect bumbling yet endearing husband to Treviño’s Marisol, and Christiana Montoya and Alessandra Perez are a bundle of joy as the couple’s young daughters. And Mike Birbiglia is the perfect punchable real estate agent that you loathe from the second you first meet his character. Each of them has their standout moments, helping the film become a very fun and truly enjoyable experience.
Capturing the highs and lows of the human experience in a truly heartwarming story, I can easily recommend A Man Called Otto to anyone looking for a fun and emotionally honest time at the movies. With Tom Hanks and Mariana Treviño leading the film with two nuanced and absolutely delightful performances, A Man Called Otto disarms its audience with an earnest and deeply moving story that is guaranteed not to leave a dry eye in the theatre.