Learn, love, and cry with A Man Called Otto

By Kayla Ross, Back Page Editor

He’s not unfriendly. Or, at least, that’s what Otto tells his new neighbors after screaming and kicking them out of their own car.

When I went to see A Man Called Otto, all I knew was that it was another Tom Hanks movie. I had heard it had Instant Family vibes and was just another feel-good movie, but this oversimplifies the film. A Man Called Otto is a secretly insightful commentary on men’s mental health, illustrating the isolation men often feel. Otto has few friends, and none with whom he feels comfortable sharing his struggle. 

A Man Called Otto opens with a man — the character of Otto, portrayed by Tom Hanks — heckling a presumably teenage employee at a hardware store. He holds up the checkout line for five minutes of screentime, refusing to be charged for three feet of rope because he only cut two. 

As Otto goes home, the audience immediately is put off by their protagonist as they watch him disrupt every neighbor and passerby on his street. It seems as though his life’s work has been devoted to keeping the neighborhood in perfect condition, despite it costing him every ounce of likeability. 

Otto is a miserable man — he is childless, widowed and newly retired. His misfortunes add up, and he hangs a noose in front of his living room windows. He does not end up using it, however, because he is distracted by the arrival of his new neighbor,  Marisol. 

Marisol is a new light to Otto’s story. Marisol’s family needs abundant help, as Marisol is new to Otto’s neighborhood and has two small children with another on the way very soon. Marisol inexplicably senses Otto’s loneliness and tries to spend time with him and bring him food in an attempt to get him to warm up to her — her relentless attempts prevent Otto from taking his own life. 

Otto’s misery is explained as the movie weaves in the vibrant love story of the early 1970s into the main plot to tell the story of when he met his late wife, Sonya. The character of young Otto is portrayed by Tom Hanks’ real-life son, Truman Hanks, which allows for a seamless connectivity between the emotions of love Otto felt when he met his wife and the polarity of the pain he felt when he lost his wife. 

The flashback scenes of this movie were my favorite part. Sonya, portrayed by Rachel Keller, brings the screen to life and gives the audience meaning behind the suffering of Otto. 

Young Otto and Sonya are electric and immensely heartwarming together. These scenes are shown in a hazy, golden vintage style, while the modern day scenes look rainy and bleak, which almost made me feel like I was watching two different stories in the best way. The styling choices move the audience to feel the emptiness in Otto’s life. 

A Man Called Otto also explores the struggle and isolation queer teens, specifically transgender teens, face every day. Otto takes a liking to the newspaper boy, Malcolm, who comes out as trans to Otto. Malcolm was a student of Sonya’s and tells Otto that Sonya always made him feel accepted in who he was. This movie handles both of these serious, relevant topics expertly. 

A Man Called Otto currently has a 69% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but I am calling this movie an absolute must-see. Every single person in the movie theater cried during my viewing. This movie is so beautifully done and is a much  needed reminder to be kind to everyone no matter what, because we can never know the struggles people are facing behind closed doors.