Let’s talk about remakes. In this day in age in Hollywood, they are all the rage. They can fall into three categories: a passion project, a soulless cash grab, or a mix of the two in order to be as middle of the road as possible to reach a wider audience. They can also strive to enhance or add a dimension to the story that the original didn’t explore (or as much) before, or do exactly the same stuff as the original without trying to tell it in a different way. I have been thinking of this since I watched A Man Called Otto – the 2022 American remake of the Swedish adaptation of A Man Called Ove. It was a flick that falls into the first and third camps and was better than I expected even though I still prefer the original.
Before we get started, let’s talk about the elephant in the room: the title itself. When I found out that the title of the American adaptation was going to be called A Man Called Otto, I wondered why. And then, I realized that the change was made to reach a wider audience than the original did, especially if they didn’t like the presence of subtitles. As much as I, as well as other readers, would rather have the same title as the source material and the first film, let’s face it, you would be hard pressed to find non-Scandanavian people who could pronounce Ove correctly (again, it’s pronounced oo-veh). In fact, there’s a running gag through the film, in which Otto tells the people he meets his name, and they comment on how odd it is. It almost makes me wonder if they were going to have him called Ove in the earlier stages of development.
The whole reason I had been thinking about remakes is because a Letterboxd reviewer named tyler called this movie “the disneyfication of Gran Torino (2008)” The part that struck me was about the disneyfication part because the film itself reminds me of a Disney live action remake. Specifically, it reminds me of the 2017 version of Beauty and the Beast – a film that I mostly liked despite my disappointment that they didn’t use any of the songs from the Broadway show, but couldn’t compare to the original. Both remakes try to make changes that make the story more relevant to a modern audience with various levels of success. This results in more complexity than the original stories contained.
In addition, while the title signifies the same plot being told with similar beats as the Swedish adaptation, it also indicates some changes in order to Americanize the story of the same name by Fredrik Backman. Director Marc Forester and writer David Magee tone down some of the darker elements of the story. Luckily, this doesn’t involve the suicide attempts, as they are protrayed as melancholic and non-judgemental. Instead, the script eliminates some of the traumatic events that occurred in Otto’s (Ove’s) life like the way Ove’s dad passed away and his childhood home going up in flames due to the work of the bureaucrats. Both are present in the book as well as in the 2015 Swedish version. I bet they did this to focus more on how Sonya changed Otto’s life in the flashbacks. And while that’s fine, without the other events, there’s little explanation as to why Otto is the way that he is outside of a line that young Otto (played by Tom Hanks’s real life son Truman) says that his life was black and white before Sonya came in.
Additionally, Forester and Magee make the movie quirkier and more on the nose than the original. The eccentricity is evident in the choice of music whenever Otto inspects the neighborhood and helps his neighbors out. It’s roughly the same kind that’s used in a lot of family-friendly flicks to indicate some form of quirkiness with its Wii-inspired composition. While the remake does this fine, the staccato violins in the original stand out more and reflect Ove’s mindset more. The remake is even more blunt about certain things more so than the book or the Swedish movie. In the opening sequence, Otto goes shopping for some rope and acts rightfully annoyed about the customer service he receives. Later on, he turns off the gas and electricity in his home in order to take his own life. If that wasn’t enough, when he comes in for work, there’s a retirement party thrown for him, and someone decides to cut right where his face is on the cake. That made me laugh very hard because it was so blunt about its foreshadowing of Otto’s suicide attempts.
Moreover, there were some decisions to make it more relevant to a wider audience. One of these included diverse casting. While Otto remains a white man, his ex-friend Reuben (aka Rune from the book and 2015 version) and his wife Anita are black. This makes the subplot with the real estate agency Dye & Merika feel more racially motivated, especially since whenever the white agent shows up, he blasts out rap music from his car, even though their son was in cahoots with the company. There are many ways to read into that, like how this may be commentary on housing discrimination that black Americans have faced for decades, even centuries. However, I’m not sure if this was in the intention of the people involved. The new neighbors are Mexican/Mexican-American. The neighbors in the novel and the original are Swedish and Iranian. Malcolm – the person with the bike – is a transgender male who doesn’t like sports. He is a combination of two characters from the book – Adrian, the boy who wants a bike fixed, and Mirsad, whose dad kicks him out for being gay. Mack Bayda – the actor who plays Malcolm – is transgender in real life, so to incorporate that into the story was cool, especially with the amount of transphobia that has been present as of late. It also falls into the theme of acceptance that the book and the previous movie version espouse. Overall, I’m okay with these casting choices because they fit into the themes of the story, and the actors have solid performances.
Another decision that the film made to expand its relevance was containing social media commentary. During the scene, in which Otto tries to get himself run over by a train, an older man accidentally falls into the tracks. Like in the book and 2015 movie, Otto rescues him, while a bunch of onlookers film the incident on their phones. There are even closeups of the event from the smart phone’s perspective. Like Ove, Otto criticizes the crowd for not doing more. Also, Luna (Lena from the book and 2015 flick) is a social media journalist, which provokes some annoyance from Otto. Like her previous counterparts, she wants to hear more from Otto about how he rescued the older man and hails him as a hero. At first, he locks her up in his garage, but when he’s gathering people to help Anita to prevent the realtors from forcing Reuben into a retirement home, he contacts Luna to dig up how they’ve been retrieving their information illegally. I’m not entirely sure what the movie is saying about social media, yet I interpreted it as commenting on the negative and positive sides of intrusion. This theme is present throughout the film. Otto sees people who need his help as parasites that prevent from doing what he truly wants to do since he views them as incapable of completing certain tasks. This is like social media since people are so glued to their phones that it inhibits them from taking action. Overtime, his perceptions evolve after he gets to know them, and he utilizes their strengths. Social media also brings people together in the toughest of times and allows those to share their stories. Again, I’m not sure if this is what the movie is going for, but this is how I interpret it.
The performances are solid. The standouts are Mexican actress Mariana Treviño and Tom Hanks. Treviño plays Marisol – the Parvaneh equivalent from the book and 2015 film. Like the actress who played Parvaneh in the Swedish original, she portrays Marisol as pushy and determined, but caring. However, she comes off as a stereotypical Latina at times, especially when she gets loud and nervous and reverts to speaking Spanish. This might have to do with the script. Even it made me prefer Bahar Pars’s performance more, I still liked Treviño’s characterization.
And now, I have to admit that Tom Hanks was better than I expected him to be as Otto. Like many people, I had my doubts about him playing the titular character because he’s the most likable actor in all of Hollywood. How could he play a curmudgeon like Ove/Otto? Well, when I was watching it, I felt Hanks’s commitment to the character, and during the course of the flick, I forgot that he was playing Otto. Plus, his emotional transformation was a little more obvious than Rolf Lassgård’s, but it was still effective. However, at the end of the day, I still prefer Rolf Lassgård as Ove/Otto because even though I don’t know any work he has done besides A Man Called Otto, his characterization was more impactful than Hanks’s, especially the scowl he wears on his face through the majority of it.
Given what I’ve said, I’m not sure if I would feel the same way if I never saw the Swedish film adaptation. I’ve spoken with people who’ve seen the American remake, and they loved it. I can see why. It hits the same beats in the story in similar ways and retains the sentimentality of the novel. Plus, there’s no subtitles to worry about. I think I would’ve liked it more if I saw the American remake first.
Overall, A Man Called Otto is an okay remake that tries to update the original Swedish movie in ways that are commendable but with mixed results. The beauty of the novel by Fredrik Backman is its simplicity. The American remake tries to complicate stuff that didn’t always need to be. With that being said, I still liked it, and I can see why others love it. I would recommend to those who love Tom Hanks, want a feel good film that makes people cry every now and then, and have read the book. But at the end of the day, I would still want people to see the original movie A Man Called Ove more because while the remake certainly had passion behind it, it was still made to generate more money with a wider audience.
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