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A Man Called Otto

“It was totally the clown’s fault.” Otto (Tom Hanks)

Anyone who would blame a hospital clown for anything must be a grump!

Having read the Swedish source novel and being aware of the Swedish film, A Man Called Ove, I was ready for the American version, A Man Called Otto, to be even more sentimentally cliched, given our penchant to overdo corn. I was surprised that not only did it underplay Frank-Capra requirements for formulaic sentiment, it also updated It’s a Wonderful Life with self-awareness and a few real-life incidents to cut my cynicism in half.

Otto is played with Tom Hanks’s Oscar-winning everyman talent, now as a curmudgeon who thinks most of the world is peopled by idiots (See clown reference above). Also, his anthropomorphism is explained in part by family losses and the idiocy of Americans who do drive recklessly and haven’t a clue what responsibility is.

As the formula would have it, Otto is thawed by darling neighborhood children and a Latino mother, Marisol, whose actress, Mariana Trevino, could have garnered best supporting actress in any competition out there now. Sweet Marisol helps this American drama work its way out of cliché to win Otto’s and our hearts at the same time. Throw in an adorable cat, and you know Otto and we will melt.

That expectation is okay because in this film Hanks plays a multidimensional grump who can grow to love others as he did his deceased wife, Sonya (Rachel Keller). Hanks can make you believe. However, his son, Truman Hanks, is not as believable as Hanks’s son, Colin, would have been for young Otto. Truman’s much too sweet to have grown into the acerbic old man who takes quite a bit of work from the likes of Marisol to become a caring human.

While director Marc Forster’s A Man Called Otto may not trump Capracorn, it may win audiences over with its holiday warmth and Hanks, who’s been winning them over since before the non-grumpy Gump. I know this dramedy made me a believer in a well-crafted formula piece and lead actor as if it were a first-time experience.

A Man Called Otto

Director: Marc Forster (Quantum of Solace)

Screenplay: David Magee (Life of Pi), based on Fredik Backman novel, A Man Called Ove

Cast: Tom Hanks (Cast Away, Forrest Gump)

Run Time: 2h 6m

Rating: PG-13

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts NPR’s It’s Movie Time and hosts Cinema Classics as well as podcasts Back Talk and Double Take out of WCBE 90.5 FM. Contact him at

John DeSando holds a BA from Georgetown University and a Ph.D. in English from The University of Arizona. He served several universities as a professor, dean, and academic vice president. He has been producing and broadcasting as a film critic on It’s Movie Time and Cinema Classics for more than two decades. DeSando received the Los Angeles Press Club's first-place honors for national entertainment journalism.