Movie Review: A Man Called Otto

Hollywood loves a remake so when the Swedish film, EN MAN SOM HETER OVE (A MAN CALLED OVE), copped two Oscar nominations in 2017 and was the highest grossing foreign language film in the US in 2016, it was only a matter of time before Hollywood would come knocking. And who better to play the lead than America’s Dad, Tom Hanks?

Based on the very popular 2012 novel of the same (i.e., Swedish) name by Fredrik Backman, A MAN CALLED OTTO tells the story of a curmudgeonly widower (Hanks) who lives on a very modest gated street in suburban Pittsburgh. Otto Anderson is a man of staunch principles and strict routines, and when someone crosses him, which is pretty much everyone, he lets them know. Newly retired against his will from his middle management job at the steel mill, Otto has had enough with life and he decides it’s time to join his late wife, Sonya (Rachel Keller, TV’s TOKYO VICE). His elaborate plans are thrown into disarray, however, when a boisterous family moves in across the road and a scruffy stray cat starts to take an interest in him. Together they reveal that underneath Otto’s gruff exterior lies a heart of gold.

If you’ve already seen A MAN CALLED OVE, A MAN CALLED OTTO isn’t going to rock your world. In fact, OTTO is almost scene-for-scene, beat-for-beat, identical to its Swedish progenitor. Some of the script problems with OVE have been ironed out (such as the kebab shop teens, Adrian and Mirsad, have been combined into one character, Malcolm (Mack Bayda), who is transgendered, and the coin incident with the clown now makes sense), but new wrinkles have been introduced (like someone who sits down to lunch before killing himself probably doesn’t really want to kill himself). OTTO, being set in the US, also changes the ethnicity of the new neighbour. Iranian-Swede Parvaneh is now Mexican-American Marisol (Mariana Treviño) and this is an improvement over the Swedish version. Marisol has more spunk than Parvaneh, and she makes for a worthy counterbalance to Otto’s brusqueness.

My issue with OTTO is that I had trouble believing that Tom Hanks could ever be the type of person who would yell at anyone regardless of the circumstances. A friend who read the book when it came out in English told me that she had always envisioned Hanks to play Ove/Otto. Not me. I can see J. K. Simmons, Bryan Cranston or even Steve Carell being a more convincing choice. In this respect, OVE wins out.

All in all, though, A MAN CALLED OTTO is light and entertaining, and audiences will enjoy the story even if they don’t remember it six months from now.

A MAN CALLED OTTO opens in Hong Kong tomorrow (January 26th).

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