A Charming Film Held Back By Odd Tonal Decisions

“A Man Called Otto” begins with a man buying rope in a hardware store. That man is widowed retiree Otto (Tom Hanks), and he is particular about both his rope length and, well, everything else — he separates the trash and recyclables, enforces parking rules, and keeps the i’s dotted and the t’s crossed in his nice but gentrifying neighborhood. And Otto does this all with a frown on his face. Otto is the neighborhood grump, and after his wife Sonya’s death he largely keeps to himself … at least until new neighbor Marisol (an electric Mariana Treviño) and her charming family move in and need a little help. It’s the first in a series of interruptions that peel off Otto’s prickly edges and allow him to grow and let the love in, finding connection in the power of community.

Unfortunately, Much of the film is a series of interruptions. Otto tries a method of suicide, fails or is interrupted by a needy neighbor, he begrudgingly helps said neighbor, and so on, as his grieving heart is progressively warmed by Marisol and co., a mangy cat he begrudgingly takes in, and others in his little gentrifying neighborhood. Where “Otto” most excels is in its performances. Tom Hanks has appropriate complexity as the widowed curmudgeon, boasting considerably strong emotional moments alongside showcasing the comedic chops he used more heavily in his early career. Some of his strongest performances are interrupted by oddly spliced-in and transitioned memories, but he still lands them well enough that his Otto is routinely enjoyable to watch. 

The surrounding cast here largely also do a wonderful job with their respective roles. Mariana Treviño gives an exceptional performance as Marisol, full of heart and fire and tremendous on-screen charisma. Rachel Keller brings a lot of warmth and humanity to her all-too-brief scenes as the younger version of Otto’s wife … though one can’t help but wonder why Otto’s remembrances of his beloved wife never extend beyond her early days. One would think he’d remember more than a brief, years-ago span in the life of a woman he loved so much he’d die to join, but alas … evidently not. It’s a curious omission to say the least. Together the performances drive a movie full of moments that are enjoyable when abstracted from their context. It’s engaging to watch these players interact and to see Otto’s transition over the movie’s runtime.

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