Review – Cranky Hanks (“A Man Called Otto”)

Based on the book, A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman, which was made into a Swedish movie back in 2015 (see review below), we get the Americanized version with everyone’s favorite actor, Tom Hanks, as a verbally abrasive old widower. But really, what was the point?

To date, I have never seen an Americanized remake version of a foreign movie that was worth its salt. It’s true. Take this remake of A Man Called Ove; the superior Swedish version with heart, passion, and a devastating, terrific screenplay. This sitcom-y, watered-down version sees Hanks as Otto Anderson, the lonely and angry former HOA leader who, after being forced into retirement from his work, decides to off himself. However, with every attempt, he keeps flashbacking back to his younger days when he (Truman Hanks as a 20-something Otto) met his wife, Sonja (Rachel Keller). In between his suicidal interruptions, he growls at his neighbors, yells at a construction company man (the guy works for Dye & Amerika Realtors. What a dumb name!), and tries to shoo away a feral cat.

Soon Otto has to deal with the new people moving in across the street who are the very definition of “wacky sitcom neighbors”. They are pregnant Mexican Marisol (Mariana Trevino), her dim-bulb husband, Tommy (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), and their two adorable little girls (Christiana Montoya & Alessandra Perez). Marisol, being the fun-loving, caring busybody that she is, gravitates to Otto by giving him food and always asking him for favors. This means driving Tommy to the hospital, babysitting their kids, and getting him to teach her how to drive a car. Meanwhile, Otto is dealing with other minor problems in his life like visiting Sonja’s grave, helping out a runaway transgender teenager (Mack Bayda), visiting his catatonic friend (Peter Lawson Jones), and getting back to killing himself. . . y’know, when he has the time.

Ya ever had an incredibly delicious steak and then you’re given an inferior slice of beef and asked how it is? It’s like that. Screenwriter David McGee (Mary Poppins Returns, Life of Pi) adapted the book into a carefree sitcom, rather than the heart-breaking novel it was meant to be. I hate drawing comparisons between the two films, but I can’t help it when one is so clearly better than the other. The 2015 movie layers the flashbacks (which are terrific and add to the story) as the emotional backbone as to why Ove is who he is, while the dull and boring flashbacks here are dull and are acted poorly. The Swedish film treats Ove’s neighbors and friends as real, not caricatures. I could go on and on but I think you get the idea. Just watch the Swedish version and prove me wrong, that’s all I’m saying.

This movie does have some redeeming qualities, such as the direction by Marc Forster (World War Z, Quantum of Solace) which include several decent moments that tug at the heartstrings and make this otherwise conventional movie shine. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love Tom Hanks and he is wonderful in this role as the cranky, crotchety old man. He is even in danger of being upstaged by that cat and Mariana Trevino who lights up the screen every time she comes on. However, if Hanks were given the other script, he would have probably nailed himself another Oscar. For those who have never read the book or seen the 2015 film, it’s not a bad film for what it intends to do. Aside from the flashback, the casting is excellent and okay to check out for Hanks fans.

**Now playing at theaters only                        

A Man Called Ove (2015)

Before the remake, there was this; the original Swedish movie based on Fredrik Backman’s novel. In my decades of seeing American remakes of foreign films, always bet on the first film. Why? Just watch this original foreign film and you’ll see a difference and why they’re far better!

Rolf Lassgard plays Ove Lindahl, a cranky, fastidious, sourpuss of a curmudgeon that is also the overly strict HOA superintendent that polices his small community. This widower is so mean and heartless that it would make Scrooge smile with delight. After being fired after 45 years of loyal work, Ove decides he’d rather join his late wife Sonja (Ida Engvoll) in the hereafter, but he keeps getting interrupted with each suicide attempt. Consequently, during these attempts we flashback to his youth where we see his growing up, his love for his railway-working father (Stefan Godicke), and his meet-cute with Sonja. We also see witness his slow descent into the hatred he has for everyone around him.

But things change one day with the arrival of his new next-door neighbors: Iranian immigrant and very pregnant Parvaneh (Bahar Pars), her Swedish husband, Patrick (Tobias Almborg), and their two little girls, Sepideh (Nelly Jamarani) and Nasanin (Zozan Akgün). Needless to say, he ain’t happy about that, as they immediately cause a ruckus by (shudder!) unloading their car! When Ove isn’t visiting Sonja’s grave every day, he’s yelling at someone for something. . . even a stray cat.

We see his obsessive rivalry over the makes of cars with his neighbor, Rune (Borje Lundberg), and the eventual battle with the “whiteshirts” that want to take him away after he becomes paralyzed. Pretty soon, friendly Parvaneh starts to talk to Ove and wear him down with her kindness, her delicious cooking, and her precious kids that take to the old man like the children did to Gru in Despicable Me. Ove’s crusty veneer starts to melt as he teaches her to drive and opens up to her after years. He even offers his home to a displaced gay young man.

The third act is where you better get your box of tissues out as the ending is heartbreaking and filled with sentimentality. Written and directed by Hannes Holmes (all Swedish TV series and movies), this film was nominated (and won) several International awards, even getting nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. It’s beautifully shot and directed by Holmes, but the real star is Lassgard who gives a bravura performance as the brutish Ove. He reminds me of John Noble from Fringe and Amazon’s The Boys. A permanent scowl on his face; never smiling or having a kind thing to say to anyone.

Pars is terrific as Ove’s persistent neighbor with a heart of gold, who never gives up on her stone-cold friend. And look for Filip Berg who plays a 20-something Ove in the flashbacks, which are a movie in themselves. He’s dynamic and gives a beautifully underrated performance as the young man who would grow up to hate the world. This is a truly moving story full of light comedy, drama, and tear-jerking revelations that’ll make you wonder how and why anyone would want to remake this movie.

***In Swedish with subtitles, so you gotta read. Streaming on Amazon Prime. 

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