The “Grumpy Old Men” era seems to come for all of our lovable movie stars, including Tom Hanks, who easily slides into this new phase with “The Man Called Otto,” a remake of the Oscar-nominated Swedish film, “A Man Called Ove.” It’s not easy to translate the famously dry and somewhat bleak Scandinavian humor to a sunnier, more optimistic American worldview, but writer David Magee and director Marc Forster manage to maintain the melancholy of the original film, which is based on the book by Swedish author Fredrik Backman.
Set in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, “A Man Called Otto” is a story about the loss of human connection in a modernized and rapidly changing world and the effort it takes to knit a community through the ties that bind: personal ones. It is also a story about the transformative nature of grief, and the beauty and cruelty of life lived in moments both mundane and monumental.
If these lessons are all a little bit obvious, and somewhat maudlin, well, yes, they are, in “A Man Called Otto,” but that doesn’t make them any less effective. Forster’s sweet spot seems to lie at the juncture of the sentimental and the strange, using unique story concepts as a way to explore existential themes, not shying away from the harsher aspects of humanity, but always finding a bright side.
Otto is isolated, forced into retirement and living alone in his small community. Without someone to live for, Otto’s minor annoyances have become his raison d’etre, righting minor wrongs like irregularly sorted recycling and incorrectly displayed parking permits.
Forster assembles an ensemble to surround Hanks, and the standout is Mexican actress Mariana Treviño, who plays Marisol, a harried, determined, heavily pregnant mom of two who moves in across the street with her husband Tommy (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo). Marisol doesn’t back down from Otto, and calls him out on his rudeness, and the hapless young parents bring over food and guilelessly request favors from their new neighbor, forcing him out of his comfort zone with their own naturally exuberant expectations of community.
Treviño’s effervescent and empathetic performance as Marisol keeps “A Man Called Otto” on track, both actress and character proving to be the saving grace for this curmudgeonly fellow, and film.
‘A MAN CALLED OTTO’
3 stars (out of 4)
Rated: PG-13 (for mature thematic material involving suicide attempts, and language)
Running time: 2:06
How to watch: In select theaters Friday, nationwide on Jan. 13