Grade:  B-


Rated PG-13

A Man Called Otto (2022) offers another serving of a Hollywood trope we’ve seen many times over: the grumpy widower whose life is brightened somehow by a younger person.

In Finding Forrester the old man was a Salinger-like recluse dogged by a young wannabe writer. In Gran Torino it was a crusty racist war veteran softened by a teenage Lao Hmong refugee. In About Schmidt it was a still-numb and rudderless old coot that found some sense of purpose by corresponding with a Tanzanian boy through a Plan USA program. In Murphy’s Romance it was a widowed druggist who found an unlikely romance with a young single mom. And in Disney’s animated Up it was a gruff old codger with a cane who became stuck with an overly talkative boy scout insisting he help the elderly man in order to earn a merit badge.

There are many more examples to cite, but this Tom Hanks film tweaks the trope to make it both schmaltzier and darker. Otto (“O-T-T-O”) is so lost and depressed after losing his beloved wife to cancer that he tries to take his life onscreen—multiple times, and by multiple means. If this were a Taika Waititi film, those attempts would have been rendered more comically. But director Marc Forster (Finding Neverland, The Kite Runner) goes for a deadpan blend of dark humor and pathos that doesn’t quite scream “Don’t try this at home,” the way broader humor might have done.

A Man Called Otto is a bit of a Hanks family affair, with Hanks’ wife, Rita Wilson, sharing a producing credit and son Truman playing a younger Otto in flashbacks. In the early going those flashbacks with Sonya (Rachel Keller) keep the film from being a total downer, like a film version of “Bolero” that plays over and over again because Forster tends to overstate Otto’s grumpiness, anger, and unexplained Barney Fife-like mission of guarding a gated cul-de-sac block of row houses in the Pittsburgh, Pa. area. The average viewer will, at some point, think, Okay, I get it. He’s an angry old bird. Move on. The film runs six minutes past two hours, so it could certainly have used a heavier hand in the editing room.

Though Hanks—like Sean Connery, Clint Eastwood, Jack Nicholson, James Garner, and Ed Asner before him—is the focal character and the one who grows and changes, the heart of the film belongs to a pregnant Mexican woman named Marisol (Mariana Treviño), her two young daughters, and her bumbling husband (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo). Without this family, Otto is a dead man, and without Treviño the film is a train wreck. Treviño has been acting for 10 years, but A Man Called Otto has to be considered her breakout role for U.S. audiences. She received no nominations for her performance, but Marisol’s exhuberance, honesty, and literal foot-in-the-door no-nonsense approach to life and relationships model the kind of virtues and values that parents might hope their children could attain. And her onscreen daughters Abbie (Alessandra Perez) and Luna (Christiana Montoya) get the assist. Scenes with them and Otto can seem cloying at times because they’re so purposefully intended to show Otto beginning to soften, but the young actresses channel their screen mother’s knowing enthusiasm along with their own characters’ innocence and naiveté to make those scenes funny.

Is it manipulative? Heck yeah. You’ll find yourself near tears one minute and laughing the next, and you know it’s because most of the scenes seem shot with the sole purpose of moving the audience. Some viewers will resent that, while others will appreciate a roller coaster ride that dips down for much of the first half and climbs throughout most of the second.

But if you give it any thought, Otto’s depression and anger would have been plenty to pull at audience’s heartstrings without the filmmakers adding a seemingly tacked-on side plot about a friendship that dissolved over automobile makes and a parallel sad medical situation. All of that feels like unnecessary piling on. The film would have been helped by fewer downer subplots, fewer trips to the cemetery, and more diverse characters like Malcolm (a transgender kid who had Otto’s wife for a teacher) and Jimmy (a neighbor whose fitness walking style will crack you up). There’s no happy ending here, only a happy transformation.

Is it family fare?  Perhaps, for families with tweens and older children. I’m a film critic, not a mental health professional, but a UCLA study reported that suicide is the second-leading cause of death among people age 15-24, with nearly 20 percent of high school students admitting that they’ve had serious thoughts of suicide. That’s a crazy statistic. Would it help them to watch a depressed and angry man who thinks he has nothing to live for find his way? Parents who know their children might have the answer. I don’t. I do know this: a film isn’t a substitute for professional evaluation and treatment, but it could very well be a starting point for a discussion that could lead to seeking outside help.

Entire family:  No

Run time:  126 min. Color

Studio/Distributor:  Columbia/Sony

Aspect ratio:  1.85:1

Featured audio:  DTS-HDMA 5.1

Bonus features:  C

Includes:  Blu-ray, Digital Copy

Amazon link


Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material involving suicide and language

Language:  7/10—Some audience members seem to bristle at the mere mention of “transgender,” and that word is spoken, along with an f-bomb, a few profane God damns, shits, hell, SOB, etc.; turns out that angry old men have a potty mouth

Sex:  1/10—Nothing here, even in flashbacks, which are intended to be tender; just a few kisses

Violence:  3/10— Otto loses it with a honking driver, physically manhandling the guy and threatening him, and there are lesser examples of physicality

Adult situations:  7/10—Aside from the multiple suicide attempts, two of which have him experiencing a near-death vision of his wife, there’s some alcohol and smoking, and one death

Takeaway:  A Man Called Otto is based on a best-selling novel by German writer Fredrik Backman, so given the number of aging male actors in Hollywood I would say there’s a pretty big incentive for future novelists to keep feeding this trope