Part of Tom Hanks’ appeal (at least for me) is that he never shies away from sentimental material. But he really should’ve stopped himself from entering the weepy, wintry world of A Man Called Otto — an Americanized adaptation of the Swedish novel that first hit the big screen in its native language with 2015’s A Man Called Ove.
You can understand Hanks’ desire to shed his nice-guy image with the titular role of a grumpy neighborhood watchman. But he doesn’t elevate it with any of the flair or showmanship he usually brings to such everyman archetypes. Otto isn’t a fun curmudgeon to watch; he’s bleak and unpleasant. And as a producer, Hanks infuses the entire production with the same miserable blandness to the point that the potentially comical use of his son Chet Hanks’ hip-hop music just blends into the depressing background.
The film takes place largely in a housing division where the snowy streets are lined with the same sad, navy blue homes. Every day, Otto does his “rounds” of the neighborhood, picking up trash, barking at neighbors and checking cars for parking permits — among many other self-imposed duties. He’s the kind of cranky coot who would call the cops to complain about kids trick-or-treating on his property.
Imagine standing in line at a store, waiting as some grouch argues with the cashier about being erroneously charged an extra 33 cents. Yeah, well, that scene actually plays out in this film, and it’s about as “fun” as it sounds.
Of course, Otto’s seemingly cold heart begins to thaw when new neighbors move in across the street. As Marisol — the sweet to Otto’s bitter — Mariana Treviño steals every scene she shares with Hanks. She gracefully serves as the surrogate for the audience, gently digging beneath Otto’s stony surface. As a transgender teen named Malcolm, Mack Byda is also an effective foil for Otto, allowing the codger a chance to be something of a father figure — and inspiring him to take back control of his own identity and destiny.
The film often cuts to flashbacks of young Otto (played by Hanks’ youngest son, Truman) and his late wife, Sonya (Rachel Keller). Their love story twists into a tragedy befitting a Nicholas Sparks novel, and it’s hard for Hanks’ son to sweep us up in it when his performance remains as flat as a pancake amid the tornado of melodrama.
Hanks’ wife, Rita Wilson, also contributes some sappy songs to the soundtrack. What an odd family affair. This movie? Really?
Surprisingly, Hanks didn’t direct this one. Rather, he allowed Marc Forster to attach his signature to the film’s anonymous style.
Back in 2020, I joined friend and colleague Dave Gutierrez for dueling essays about Hanks. Dave mainly argued that the beloved actor showed self-indulgence and smugness in his performances. Well, the character of Otto certainly shares those traits. I’ll always hold out hope Hanks will return to his glory days. But in regard to his latest effort here, I have to side with Dave in saying, “Hanks for Nothing, Tom!”