Review: ‘A Man Called Otto’ is a brilliant film about loss and life

A Man Called Otto is a “dramedy” directed by Marc Forster and written by David Magee, based on a novel of the same name by Fredrik BachmanTom Hanks stars as Otto Anderson, a grumpy and precise widower who (against his will) befriends a young family across the street from him. Otto is a complex character, and Tom Hanks gives a powerful performance. Starring alongside Hanks is a strong ensemble cast that includes Mariana TreviñoManuel Garcia-RulfoCameron Britton, and Mack Bayda.

A Man Called Otto is a poignant and moving film that explores the complex emotions of grief and loss. The film is particularly resonant for those (like me) who have experienced these emotions firsthand. Through its sensitive and nuanced portrayal of grief, A Man Called Otto offers a much-needed space for healing and catharsis. You will shed tears while watching. 

Thoughts on ‘A Man Called Otto’

[Note: There are extremely light spoilers for A Man Called Otto ahead.]

Hanks offers a portrayal of Otto’s grief that is honest. The film does not shy away from the pain and sorrow that comes with loss; it doesn’t paper over those feelings. It also centers on the absurdity of the feelings too at times, much like in real life. What it does offer is a message of hope and a path forward grounded in the fullness of a new community. 

Otto is consumed by grief after the death of his wife, Sonya, brought to screen by Rachel Keller. He feels empty and hopeless and longs for the pain to end. He makes meticulous plans to end his life, but his new neighbors repeatedly interrupt him. While Marisol and Tommy embrace life with open arms, Otto longs to leave it behind. The young couple is at the start of their relationship.  It serves as a paralell too, to the relationship between Otto and Sonya that we see on screen in flashbacks. 

These interactions, with the stark contrast between Otto’s bleak plans and the genuine warmth of his neighbors and the world around him, are not only the source of the film’s humor but also some of its most profound moments of philosophical exploration. They delve into the depths of grief, the strength of human connection, and the power it holds to heal and pull Otto out of his darkness.  This connection with Marisol, Tommy, and the other neighbors ultimately helps Otto find the short-lived courage to endure. 

A Man Called Otto is beautifully shot and features strong performances from its cast. It’s worth your time. 

A note about content

One of the most notable aspects of the film is the content warning at the beginning, which alerts viewers to the presence of suicide depictions. I went into the movie blind. I didn’t read the book it was based on and I didn’t see any trailers. In truth, I only watched it because I saw Tom Hanks on the preview banner. Maybe that’s worth a discussion at a later date about the staying power of true movie stars, even in the diluted streaming world. 

Ultimately, I was very was grateful for the warning because there are several suicide attempts throughout the film. Even though Otto is thwarted in a comedic way, these attempts are still jarring and raw.  I appreciated the warning and going into the story with that knowledge because it gave me the power to decide not to watch.

This is not the first time in film history that suicide attempts have been used for comedic effect. For example, the Turkish film Turkish Dance School, starring Demet Ozdemir, also features several thwarted suicide attempts, but it does not have a content warning, and unless you’ve scoured the internet for reviews, is quite shocking. The comedy of Turkish Dance School, a Netflix film, is also rowdier and less introspective than in A Man Called Otto. 

A Man Called Otto is now streaming

A Man Called Otto is now streaming on Netflix and available for purchase however you like to buy your media. 

Have you watched A Man Called Otto? What did you think? Join the conversation by leaving a comment or connecting with us on Twitter @MoviesWeTexted.

If you want another perspective on the movie, Alise Chaffins reviewed the film and Brian Kitson reviewed the book, A Man Called Ove, that the film is based on.

If you’re still looking for something to watch, be sure to check out our review of the Apple TV+ movie Ghosted.