‘A Man Called Otto’ is a timely reminder that community is king
Tom Hanks’ latest turn sees him play a widower on a mission to better his neighbourhood, and it’s a tale that feels apt in our atomised age, says Hanna Flint
Saturday 7 January 2023 By Hanna Flint
Do you know the names of your neighbours? Tom Hanks in A Man Called Otto certainly does, though he’s not known for being especially friendly to them. His latest film, an English-language adaptation of Fredrik Backman’s 2012 novel A Man Called Ove (which had previously been adapted by Hannes Holm for the screen) is exactly the sort of endearing and sentimental cinematic diversion to start the year off with a smile. And a few tears.
Hollywood’s Nicest Actor™ plays grumpy old sod, Otto Anderson, a widower who makes it his mission to keep his neighbourhood in tip-top shape and demand his fellow residents follow the rules. Mr Rogers, he ain’t. Otto has more in common with the horror stories you read on AITA Reddit threads about overzealous Homeowner Association Committees complaining about Christmas lights or unmown lawns. He’s blunt, gruff and is easily irritated by the people around him who don’t fit with his carefully defined parameters of communal existence. Yet that’s the problem; he’s existing but not living.
The grief over Otto’s wife Sonya’s (played by Rachel Keller in flashbacks) recent death has him wanting to join her in the afterlife, and so he makes several suicide attempts, albeit unsuccessful. Pretty dark territory, but it’s Tom Hanks so the film is more comedy than drama, and it never gets as deep or despairing as it might have with a different actor or director. Marc Forster and screenwriter David Magee previously worked together on Finding Neverland, so they know just how to frame tragic circumstances with a lighter touch, while not skimping on the emotional gut punch – tissues are recommended.
There’s something of the Larry Crowne or The Terminal about this story with the character journey of Hanks’ off-kilter character empowered by several personalities around him. In the case of this film, we have a power-walking bear hug of a man, Jimmy (Cameron Britton); a junk mail-delivering, transgender teen, Malcolm (Mack Bayda); and Anita (Juanita Jennings), Sonya’s best friend who now cares for her husband Reuben (Peter Lawson Jones), who was once Otto’s closest friend.
The most significant colourful character, though, is the brilliantly assertive and compassionate Marisol, played by Mariana Treviño with heart and humour. She’s a pregnant Mexican-American mother of two girls and wife to dopey husband Tommy (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), who’ve just rented a house across the road from Otto and inject some life into the mundanity of his routine. She sees through his irritable exterior and recognises a man whose efforts to protect their cul de sac may seem overbearing and begrudging, but stem from a place of care and solidarity with those around him in a community he once shared with his late wife.
And that’s the real heart of this film. Many of the people around us are struggling because of the cost-of-living crisis. Others might be affected because of the havoc in the NHS, and/ or find their daily lives affected by the national strikes for rail workers and nurses, among others, demanding fairer treatment when it comes to labour and pay. Now, we might not be able to pay our neighbours’ bills or fast track their hospital needs, but A Man Called Otto is a reminder that we can offer support in a neighbourly way. Be it lending a ladder, bleeding a radiator, or babysitting kids so that working parents can have a night off. Or simply checking in and saying, ‘hello, how are you doing?’
We have a brand-new year ahead of us and resolutions are being made. Maybe challenge yourself to enact some community spirit, so that your neighbours become more than just a door number.
RIP rock ’n’ roll queen
The great fashion dame Vivienne Westwood died over the Christmas period at the age of 81 and many of us felt that profound loss. But, I always feel that when public figures pass away during their twilight years, it’s more a cause for celebration of the life they led than mourning its end.
Westwood was a revolutionary figure in the fashion world, not least because of her anarchy flare that challenged traditional style statements from the 1970s onwards. She was punk, she was anti-establishment (well, until she accepted her damehood), but she was also a working-class woman with northern roots who stood in stark contrast from the elitist tastemakers of design houses who catered to the super wealthy.
The only piece of Westwood clothing I own is a salmon-pink Anglomania dress my mum bought me from Selfridges in the sale for my Year 13 prom. Sixteen years later and it still fits, it still looks fab and I’m proud to call it a wardrobe staple. It’s a timeless garment and Westwood was a timeless artist whose fashion ideals and ingenuity should never be forgotten.
A Man Called Otto is screening at the Houses from Saturday 7 January onwards. To see our programme of screenings, click here.