A Man Called Otto

Wonderful tale Americanized to death

I very much enjoyed reading an English translation of Fredrik Backman’s 2012, darkly comic “En man som heter Ove” (“A Man Called Ove”). So much so that I plunged into dreaded subtitle-land and watched Hannes Holm’s 2015 Swedish-language take on it. Loved that, too.

But I can’t say the same for this Americanized version by Marc Forster, who gave us Monster’s Ball, Finding Neverland, and The Kite Runner (but also Quantum of Solace and World War Z).

It’s not just the hackneyed plot: isolated, ill-tempered retiree who has just lost his wife and is seriously trying (and failing) to commit suicide slowly finds a reason to go on living thanks to a perky new friendship. This chestnut was hackneyed long before Clint Eastwood ever snarled, “Get off my lawn.” Scrooge. The Grinch.

Forster’s clunky Hollywood update downplays the source material’s delicious cynicism, amps up the manipulation, and defangs the black comedy, with the end result being a well-acted Hallmark Channel sitcom.

Tom Hanks acquits himself adequately in the title role but doesn’t seem to be getting a lot of direction from Forster other than “act grumpy.” Walter Matthau, he is not. Hanks is of course one of our most dependable actors, but his massive fame and sheer ubiquity work against the film’s goals, making me think a less recognizable actor may have made for a more effective result. Tip: You can find that in the Swedish movie. (126 min)