There's no question that A Man Called Otto, is going to be a crowd pleaser for average movie goers. The entire movie from the script on was successfully built to make audience members feel warm and fuzzy. Which is a good thing, it's what you want from a film this time of year- we aren't looking for Oscar worthy films at this point, but something that just leaves ya feeling warm, comfortable, and familiar. Something that you can watch with almost any family member and come out feeling good that you picked a safe option that almost everyone won't hate. It's also those choices that make this film one to people that do watch more than 5 - 10 new releases in a year; forgettable.
When a lively young family moves in next door, grumpy widower Otto Anderson (Tom Hanks) meets his match in a quick-witted, pregnant woman named Marisol (Mariana Treviño), leading to an unlikely friendship that turns his world upside down.
Let's start with the positive elements of this American remake, because there were things that I really did enjoy about it. The flashback sequences with young Otto (Truman Hanks) and his wife Sonya (Rachel Keller) were really well done in establishing the relationship and eventual tragedies that make Otto the man he is today. Both Truman & Rachel brought a ton of emotion to their parts of the story, and I was really invested in their sections of the tale. As well, the screenplay was really well set up in establishing and growing the relationship and impact that Marisol has on Otto's life. It's a slow brewer, but as we gain the insight and appreciation towards how much she truly loves life and cares for her new grumpy neighbour, we can see Otto reaching the same mindset. Albeit at a bit slower of a pace than what we reach it at. The emotional stuff with neighbours Anita and Rueben really hit as well, and have a rewarding pay out at the end.
All of this relationship building, leads to a surprisingly heavy emotional ending. Something that felt so good and fulfilling that it well earned all that time we spent with these characters in developing them. It's one of those ones that had me thinking of calling all my loved ones and telling them how much I appreciate them, it was that good and touching.
The acting is fine, Hanks is his typical steady self. He clearly has fun playing into the Otto character, and getting to unleash a little bit more of a grumpy side on camera. It's Treviño's movie though, she's the life of it and every bit of it beats through her. It didn't matter who she was sharing a scene with, she found a way to bring out even more in the performance for all of them- Hanks included. Truman Hanks does a really fine job with a really touching script into the backstory of Otto, and it's the emotional chemistry he shares with Rachel Keller on screen that really hammers it through. Everyone else does a fine job, but the characters outside of the ones I named aren't really developed or given a moment to stand out the way those ones above are. Would've loved to have seen more of Mack Bayda's Malcolm because that was an interesting dynamic in the story telling, but he never truly gets enough screen time to do that dynamic full justice as there's so much else the film tries to tell.
On the negative side, the two hour run time was a bit too long. There was a lot of stories such as Bayda's that they try to tell in the two hours but it never felt tight enough story wise to be able to fully give those stories their full justice. Plenty of little snippets throughout the film are added to try and make the film feel more comedy than drama, and in the end it just doesn't add to the film- it in fact makes it feel a bit over long and disjointed in the story it's trying to tell. Given I still haven't seen the Swedish original, so I can't tell if that film is also told in a Dramedy way- but I just felt that this could've been tighter if it focused fully in on its drama section with smaller sprinkles of comedy.
As well, the comedy pieces thrown into the mix just don't work when their followed up with heavier content right after. We'll go from Otto punching a clown in the face, to him thinking of yet another way to commit suicide. Or him insulting a neighbors papillon (how rude), to once again looking at another way to end his life. I understand that it's looking at all areas of grief, but the moments of comedy just lose their humour when they're directly followed up with such dark content.
In the end, A Man Called Otto is a pleasant January film- one that probably could've been a streaming option instead of a theatre option. Much like another American remake a few years back in The Upside, I think it'll be a pleasant film that I'll forget about as more and more releases start coming out for this year.