The comic possibilities of a suicidal suspect who keeps failing at offing himself were plumbed by Burt Reynolds 45 years ago in “The End.” The reasons why Burt’s many attempts at suicide failed were not identical to Tom Hanks’ in “A Man Called Otto” based on the Swedish film “A Man Called Ove” and the 2015 Oscar-nominated Swedish hit by Hannes Holm (which was based on the book of the same name by Fredrik Backman.) But the engine driving the film was the same in both films.
The cranky old man schtick has also been well plumbed by actors like Clint Eastwood portraying Walt Kowalski in the 2008 film “Gran Torino.” The grouchy man who is mad at the world role is played, this time, by America’s favorite Everyman, Tom Hanks. It’s a good thing, because the plot is obvious from a mile away (we’ve seen this film before). However, with Tom Hanks as the lead, it’s possible to shrug off the sugary overload and enjoy the (relatively) happy ending. Plus, Tom adopts a stray cat, always a crowd pleaser. [Based on remarks Hanks made on a late-night talk show, the cat was a pretty independent critter that would barely look Tom’s way and never on cue.]
The younger version of Tom Hanks is played by Truman Hanks, Tom’s real-life son. This is also something that has been done before, as with the recent pairing of Dustin and Jake Hoffman starring opposite Sissy Spacek and her daughter Schuyler Fisk in “Sam and Kate.”To hear the elder Hanks tell it, his son Truman has been learning the entertainment business from the ground up, starting with camera and electrical work. Truman does not resemble Tom as much as his older son, Colin, but Truman was the right age for the part (if a little chubby by Dad’s standards). The flashbacks, establishing young Otto’s somewhat awkward social presence, are fine, with Rachel Keller portraying young Sonya, the love of Otto’s life.
Little by little we learn that Otto and Sonya were in a bus accident; their unborn child died. Sonya went on to teach school and to urge her husband to continue to invest in life, although the loss of their child was a bitter blow. Even more deeply felt was Otto’s loss of Sonya to cancer at 63 years of age. He now visits her daily in the cemetery and chats graveside.
From Sonya’s death on, Otto is the Town Grouch. He makes daily “rounds” to make sure no one is driving the wrong way on the “not a through street” entrance to their Midwestern housing development. He supervises the trash recycling area. After new neighbors move in across the street, he is asked to loan Tommy (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) and Marisol (Mariana Trevino) everything from a ladder to an Allen wrench. “Idiot” is the most common perjorative that Otto uses when someone near him cannot parallel park or is driving the wrong way in the neighborhood. But the cracks in the crabby façade are growing bigger and broader with the entrance into the neighborhood of the vivacious pregnant Marisol, her husband Tommy and their two little girls. The two little girls in the new family (Christiana Montoya as Luna and Alessandra Perez as Abbie) are a sure sign that Otto will thaw from his previous role as Mr. Grumpy Pants.
Along the way, there are at least three failed suicide attempts by Hanks, which, again, reminded me of that long-ago Burt Reynolds blackly comic vehicle “The End” (co-starring Sally Field and Dom DeLuise). It also reminded me of a very unpopular comedy routine that George Carlin launched on an unsuspecting audience in Chicago near the end of his life. [The audience began exiting in droves; they did not find suicide the least bit funny.]
There’s nothing off-key about Tom Hanks’ performance in this very predictable bitter sweet story. The music (Thomas Newman) is unremarkable and the fact that Tom Hanks could read the phone book and still entertain us is not news. I wondered why Hanks chose this particular story, and then I saw that Rita Wilson (Mrs. Tom Hanks) was Executive Producer and read that she was quite taken with the project after seeing the Swedish film.
I don’t object to a “happy” ending or a nicely-packaged movie about a Scrooge-like character who will, in the course of the movie’s 2 hour 40 minute length, grow much warmer and fuzzier. The supporting performances are adequate;with the exception of Mariana Trevino as the irrepressible Marisol, the other characters are not overly memorable.
It was a nice family movie with some good messages about living life and nurturing community. German director Marc Foster’s offering is not likely to surprise, but the fleeting references to Hanks’ suicidal tendencies will not drive patrons from the theater. Comedian Mike Birbiglia is wasted as a Dye & Merica real estate agent. The movie opened wide on Friday the 13th (Jan.).