Six years ago, almost to the day, I reviewed A Man Called Ove, the Oscar-nominated Swedish film from Hannes Holm. It’s a startling concept, that I reviewed this six years ago, because I can’t imagine my abilities as a writer were up to snuff in the first few years of this site’s existence. Not that they are exceptional now, but I make do. It is fitting, perhaps, that I began thinking about my review of this English-language remake by reconsidering my initial review, given how retrospection and time factor into the themes of the material here.
But time also functions in a different way here. As in the question, why has Sony decided to remake this 2015 film for 2022 release and angle it for a late awards season push? I suppose on paper it adds up. Celebrated actor Tom Hanks taking on the role of a stubborn, cantankerous widower, deriving from a film already proven as an Academy-pleaser, is potentially a formula for success. But the project took a long time getting to the production phase. And its prospects this late in the Oscars game appear bleak. Hanks has a better chance at getting a dark horse nomination for Elvis than he does with this role.
Otto Anderson (Hanks) is a set-in-his-ways retiree (retired by force, it’s worth mentioning). He’s the sort that, on principle, wants every bit of value out of his utilities and retail purchases. The sort to raise a fuss when someone parks in a permit-only spot. He’s a bit of a nuisance, to be frank, but he is also proficient and self-sufficient. And he is at a dark, mortal crossroads, contemplating his life at the same time as he considers ending it.
The film alternates between flashbacks of Otto’s past and episodes in his present, where his new neighbors test his patience and offer him new perspectives. The latter provides the most winning performance of the film in Mariana Treviño’s Marisol. To his credit, Hanks’ son Truman proves highly capable in the flashbacks.
The flashback structure, however, is the major detracting point of the film. More precisely, it is the way in which the film bounces back and forth between the cloying emotionalism of the flashbacks and the present-day storyline rife with comedic incident. As was my problem with the Swedish film, I can’t reconcile the two in the way the film wants me to.
It is clear that the film means to edge gingerly into the darkness of the premise in order to build the emotional core as the narrative progresses, while simultaneously working towards a crowd-pleasing character study. In some instances, this works just fine. But overall, I find the appeals to pathos lacking (the soundtrack choices really don’t do these appeals any favors, either). Given that the entire film hinges on these moments succeeding, this is a largely unforgivable issue.
This being said, the narrative is well structured and rarely feels its length. It is the type of feel-good (after a few scenes of feel-not-so-good) film that will delight some and, for the rest, mercifully doesn’t overstay its welcome.
A Man Called Otto: C+
As always, thanks for reading!
—Alex Brannan (Twitter, Letterboxd, Facebook)