A Man Called Otto (2022)

Meet Otto. Otto is a boomer. He’s about to retire from a job he has held for his entire adult life because, following a merger, his old ways did not fit with the future direction of the company. Otto leads a scheduled life. He is a stickler for rules and regulations. Every morning he makes sure cars parked on his residential street have correct parking permits displayed in correct locations. Otto makes sure the gate to his street remains closed because it is not a through-street. Otto always double-checks if recycling is properly sorted and corrects when people dump cans into the paper bin.  

Also, Otto wants to kill himself because his life no longer has a meaning after his wife Sonya passed away. However, Otto finds out that suicide requires a lot of unplanned aggravation, and he is already quite angry as it is. He can’t buy rope by the foot so he must overpay for 33 cents at the local DIY shop. He can’t easily disconnect his gas and electric services because most people do not ask to be disconnected from the network without moving house. Finally, Otto cannot off himself in peace because something always goes wrong. Either the rope refuses to hold his body for long enough for him to die and he ends up dropping to the ground like a bag of potatoes, or his bubbly neighbour accosts him when he attempts to poison himself with the exhaust fumes from his car in the relative serenity of his well-kept garage. Otto cannot catch a break, which makes him even angrier.  

But life has more in store for Otto as he is about to find out that his late wife looks at his every move from way up above and makes sure he stays where he is because he doesn’t know he has a life to live, and this life is about to find a meaning the minute he realizes that not everyone around him is an incompetent idiot. Who knows? Maybe there is a chance for Otto? 

At least this is what the filmmakers would want us to believe. A Man Called Otto functions both as an adaptation of a book titled A Man Called Ove and a remake of a Swedish film of the same name. It was written for the screen by David Magee, the man behind adapting Finding Neverland and Life of Pi, and this honestly should be enough to prepare you for what this movie is and how it goes about sending the message that it wants to send. Because we must be honest here: this movie isn’t here to explore the human condition in any meaningful way, but rather to offer saccharine entertainment based exclusively on stitching together eye-rollingly obvious clichés, broad characterizations and instances of schmaltzy happenstance that could only be found in Disney live action movie-of-the-week productions that used to air on weekend afternoons when I was a youngling. Or in any Bob Zemeckis movie. Or in Life of Pi, for that matter, which is only expected given who wrote the script.  

Thus, I am sad to report that A Man Called Otto is an effectively braindead drama aimed squarely to earn the silver dollar without trying very hard. Despite competent direction from Marc Forster, for whom this is a second collaboration with David Magee after Finding Neverland, the movie lacks necessary nuance and narrative sophistication to go toe-to-toe with other prestige dramas. In fact, it is best described as a film equivalent of a phone you’d get for your aging grandmother, with big buttons that are easy to press, and any technological prowess of a modern smartphone sufficiently dumbed down to make sure she wouldn’t be overwhelmed by the sole idea of interacting with this instrument.  

Consequently, everything about the movie is a big button that is easy to press. Tom Hanks as Otto is aptly easy to decode as a character, as he is defined by his angry boomer tendencies. His bubbly neighbour Marisol (Mariana Treviño) is defined by her Mexican heritage. Her husband fits within the stencil of huggable inept hubby who would die of hunger soon after his wife decided to stop cooking meals for him. The villains in the film – a development company looking to take over Otto’s residential area – are characterized much in the same way Cruella DeVille would be. The list goes on. In fact, anything and everything – from the main characters to plot elements, dramatic beats, scenes and even specific shots – feels as though it was concocted by Robert Zemeckis as he was figuring out what to do with his life after birthing Welcome to Marwen. It’s all broad strokes and absolutely zero nuance.  

However, in contrast to other festivals of cinematic schmaltz, A Man Called Otto doesn’t ever feel disrespectful or diminutive to its subject matter because it knows it shouldn’t opine on grand aspects of the human condition in a juvenile way. The movie is just simple. It’s a simple story about a simple man with his simple problems, hang-ups and regrets, and it is all told in a way that’s simple, easy to digest and react to. Again, it’s a phone for your gran with big buttons that only makes and receives calls and – if you’re feeling frisky – you may be able to send a text, too. But anyone seeking even a modicum of narrative or thematic sophistication in this movie will emerge sorely disappointed. It has more in common with Flight than anything else and even though it carries some thematic similarities to J.M. Coetzee’s novel Slow Man, it doesn’t even try to be half as morally complex and ambiguous in its exploration of loneliness, love, regret and pent-up frustration. In fact, if Disney executives ever decided to adapt Slow Man into a family-friendly and digestible format that removes every single aspect of the narrative and its meta-textuals that requires the viewer to user their brain, something like A Man Called Otto would come out. 

Therefore, if you’re in the mood for an intellectually non-threatening but wildly emotionally manipulative venture into the fairy tale world of boomers navigating the vagaries of modern existence set against the backdrop of societal clichés and character stencils, Marc Forster and David Magee have got you covered. A Man Called Otto is incredibly successful in forcing tears out of tear-ducts of aging ladies, or at least those who attended my screening and ended up wailing like the televised crowds at Kim Jong-Il’s funeral. If that’s your bag, be my guest. But the conversation you will have on the way home is not going to be very deep because a shallow movie can only do so much. And if you are after something nuanced and engaging, I suggest you look elsewhere because you may not be able to look past these ample broad characterizations and extremely trite beats to extract any kind of enjoyment out of the experience.  

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