Otto-matic for the People

On Friday night I went with Ben to see the new Tom Hanks film A Man Called Otto. There aren’t many heartwarming comedy dramas that open with the main character preparing to commit suicide, but this is one of them.

Hanks plays a recently-retired widower who finds himself increasingly at odds with the modern world. He rails at the DIY shop because they sell rope by the yard and he only needs five feet. He patrols the neighbourhood, watching for dogs who pee on his lawn and cars using the residents-only road illegally. His neighbours irritate him, as does the paper boy who leaves his bike blocking the pavement for a moment.

So far, so Victor Meldrew. But like Victor Meldrew, Otto’s grumpiness doesn’t come from nowhere. Through flashbacks, we are shown Otto’s courtship of his eventual wife Sonya, and the tragedy that struck them (the younger Otto is played by Hanks’s son, Truman).

Back in the present day, Otto can’t see a future for himself after retirement, and plans to end it all. He is repeatedly prevented from doing so by his new neighbours, a family led by the relentlessly chirpy Marisol (played by Mariana TreviƱo, a new name to me, but amazingly good here). Although initially resistant to Marisol’s overtures of friendship, Otto slowly but surely warms up to her, becoming a friend to her and her two kids, and even her husband, despite thinking he’s an idiot.

There are lots of funny moments here, and if you watched the trailer, you might be expecting another bog-standard “grumpy old man” film. But there is also pathos here; the ending genuinely had me in tears – and it’s a long time since a film had that effect on me. Maybe it’s because Otto, left behind in a confusing modern world after the love of his life passed away, reminded a bit of my own dad.

Also — and without spoiling things too much — another supporting character, who plays a pivotal role, is a trans teenage boy, Malcolm. He is played by trans actor Mack Bayda and it’s great to see trans representation in a mainstream film.

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