Review by Sean Boelman
The Norwegian film A Man Called Ove, based on the novel Fredrik Backman, is one of the more acclaimed international comedies in recent memory. Of course, Hollywood had to come along and remake it, but surprisingly, Marc Forster’s A Man Called Otto is a rare remake that manages to capture the magic of the original, largely thanks to a strong performance by Tom Hanks.
The movie follows a depressed old man who is given a refreshed outlook on life when a new family moves in next door, forming an unlikely and unorthodox friendship with him. For those who have seen the Norwegian version of the film, it largely follows the same beats with a few jokes and small plot points being translated to an American audience.
That being said, the marketing would have this movie be a heartwarming comedy about a grumpy old man learning to be kind again, and while those aspects are there, it also has a very dark sense of humor to it. Although this element isn’t quite as prevalent of a force as it was in the Norwegian adaptation, it’s something that audiences need to be prepared for or else they will be put off by it.
Tom Hanks gives another phenomenal performance here, but one can’t help but feel the Hanks-iness of it all. In other words, Hanks is essentially playing Tom Hanks but grumpy. Still, it works quite well, as there is supposed to be an inexplicably lovable quality to the character, just as Hanks himself is infectiously endearing.
His chemistry with actress Mariana Treviño is fantastic, and Treviño surprisingly holds her own against the veteran actor. It’s refreshing to see a film that, for the most part, doesn’t make the minority character the butt of the joke — although one recurring gag about her character’s poor driving abilities does teeter on the edge of being slightly problematic.
One thing in the remake that is, surprisingly, an improvement over the original, is the use of flashbacks. While the flashbacks were effective in the Norwegian movie, they are much more concise and focused in this version. While these scenes could be seen as tear-jerking, they are effective at eliciting a strong emotional reaction.
That said, this version of the film is much weaker on the elements dealing with the theme of immigration. It’s a missed opportunity considering how hot of a topic immigration is in the United States right now, especially since — as it stands — the characters’ ethnicity feels like more of a plot device than a fully-developed aspect of her character.
A Man Called Otto sticks to the basics and remembers what made its source material so charming in the first place, while also benefiting from an inspired performance by Tom Hanks. It’s a lovely, charming little movie, and while it wasn’t entirely necessary, it holds up against an original that set a pretty high bar for success.
A Man Called Otto hits theaters on December 29.