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Falling in Love With a Grump: It’s a Pleasure to Watch Tom Hanks in ‘A Man Called Otto’

Falling in Love With a Grump: It’s a Pleasure to Watch Tom Hanks in ‘A Man Called Otto’

  • I wish I would get a chance to meet the two-time Academy Award-winning actor and shake his hand. He is simply wonderful.

Otto is a palindrome — spelled the same forward and backward like Malayalam, kayak, level, civic and so on. As grumpy old men go, or the “khadoos” types as we desis call them, are plenty on and off the screen. Hollywood and Bollywood have portrayed them many times as in “Grumpy Old Men,” “Piku” and “Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham.” I love the sound of the name Otto. It has a bite to it. A certain robotic quality. 

Tom Hanks imparts a special life into the name in “A Man called Otto.” A joy that you can’t help falling in love with. Co-produced by Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson and directed by Marc Forster from a screenplay by David Magee, 

A Man called Otto” is a remake of the Swedish blockbuster “A Man Called Ove” (2015) based on a book by the same name. In the American version, Otto Anderson, a 63-year-old widower, lives in suburban Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. After retiring from a steel company, he loses his desire to live. Having lost his wife Sonya (Rachel Keller), a vivacious young lady, an avid reader, and a schoolteacher, six months ago, Otto sees no reason to carry on. He hates everyone and everything around him. We learn about his life, through several flashbacks that feature Tom Hanks’ son Truman Hanks as a young Otto. 

Failing the U.S. Army physical because of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. Meeting Sonya on a train after returning a dropped book to her. Falling in love. Graduating with an engineering degree. Getting married. We see a lot of Truman, with his wide blue-eyed eagerness. No offense to Truman, but these flashbacks make the movie seem longer than necessary. Tom Hanks as Otto is determined to carry out his final plan to end his life but life has other plans for him. New neighbors move in as renters in a house across from Otto with a big trailer. 

After Otto parks their car, Marisol (Mariana Treviño) is perpetually at his door and life at all and many inopportune moments. Her husband Tommy (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) is not very adept at handling tools. After Tommy falls off a ladder, she needs a driver to take them to the hospital. Otto also seems perfect to Marisol to babysit their two daughters, Abby and Luna. Marisol enlists Otto’s help on an ongoing basis, foiling his attempts to end his life. On one such occasion, Otto saves the life of a man who faints and falls into the train tracks and the incident becomes a viral video

Despite himself, or because he can’t help not fixing things, Otto takes Marisol for a driving lesson and they visit Sonya’s favorite bakery, which the couple formerly frequented every weekend. He slowly warms up to Marisol and tells her about his friendship with a guy named Reuben, and Sonya’s friendship with Reuben’s wife Anita. The two grew apart after Reuben’s preference for Fords and Toyotas over Otto’s Chevrolets and the “coup” of replacing Otto as chairman of the housing society. 

Because of the neighbors’ interference, Otto is also forced to take in a very persistent stray cat. One night he opens his door to Malcolm, a troubled transgender kid, Malcolm, (his wife Sonya’s student). He helps Malcolm by fixing his bicycle. Otto learns that Dye & Merika, a local real estate company, is planning to force Reuben into a nursing home and take their house, after illegally finding out that Anita’s diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease. Otto agrees to help Anita and Reuben enlisting the help of social media journalist Shari Kenzie. Slowly by focusing his energies outside, Otto transforms from a man who hates people to a man who is readily available to help everyone in the neighborhood.  

“A Man called Otto” is a story about deep love and incredible loss. It will make you cry out in pain as you empathize with Otto when he shares his sadness with Marisol. He tells her that he and Sonya went to Niagara Falls to celebrate their first pregnancy. On their way back home, the bus they were on crashed due to faulty brakes, resulting in Sonya being paralyzed and having a miscarriage. He builds a bond with another living being by sharing his deepest sorrow. This gives him much-needed closure. I wept as the seasons changed on this man and how life forced him to carry on because he had a lot more good in him to give to the world.

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I loved the scene on the train. It conjures up so many memories of train journeys. And the handful of change Sonya gives him. The lucky silver quarter from 1964 became his talisman. He picks it up every day from a china saucer and keeps it in his shirt pocket. His obsession with organizing the recyclables in their proper bins. Looking for valid permits in parked cars. Closing the gate of their neighborhood. All this seems tolerable when you see the sincerity with which Otto teaches Marisol to drive a stick shift. How he enjoys the ritual of coffee with Dutch eclairs. His methodical habit of shoveling snow, made me cry. (I wished I could have known Otto, or someone like him when we got snowed in). The acting is classic Tom Hanks. From the opening scene of buying rope in a hardware store to the last scene about not letting Marisol’s husband drive his Chevy truck. 

I saw it at AMC Valley Bend in Huntsville, Alabama. The theater was full. There were older couples. Adult children with their parents. I saw it with my friend. “The Man called Otto” leaves us with a message that life is not fair. People are insensitive and selfish in general but when someone does something neighborly and kind, it touches your heart. Someone lends you a hand to move your couch. Bakes you a cake. Fixes your mailbox. Picks up your dog from the vet. Takes you to a doctor’s appointment. Life feels bearable. One kind act starts a domino effect. 

Life is a social experiment. It’s best not to dwell in the past but look outside our lives and see the needs of other people, only then we will be able to cast off our burdens. Although the ending is predictable and fairytale-like, it is still worth seeing “Otto.” Tom Hanks’ performance is outstanding. This character has snippets of Tom Hanks’ roles in “Forrest Gump,” “The Terminal,” A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” and “Catch Me If You Can.” Hanks’ expressions are incredible. His exasperations as a gruff old man are hilarious. But what makes one fall in love with him is his silent grunts of appreciation for his neighbor’s cooking. Otto is a man who loves simple things in life. A hand tucked into his. I wish I would get a chance to meet the two-time Academy Award-winning actor and shake his hand. He is simply wonderful!

With one foot in Huntsville, Alabama, the other in her birth home India and a heart steeped in humanity, writing is a contemplative practice for Monita Soni. Monita has published hundreds of poems, movie reviews, book critiques, essays and contributed to combined literary works. Her two books are My Light Reflections and Flow through My Heart. You can hear her commentaries on Sundial Writers Corner WLRH 89.3FM and the Princess Theater.

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