January 28, 2023

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‘A Man Called Auto’ Review: Tom Hanks plays a florid grump

4 min read

“A Man Called Auto” stars Tom Hanks as one of those hapless over-the-hill loners who never misses an opportunity to vent his spleen. Giving everyone a hard time gets him through the day; You can call it his hobby. From Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol” to Alan Arkin in “Little Miss Sunshine,” we’ve seen this type of get-off-my-lawn curmudgeon many times before. But with the right actors and the right script, it’s a formula for yucks (and gently rediscovered humanity) that audiences never tire of — and Hanks, make no mistake, is the right actor for the role. Over the years, when he was America’s top movie star, Hanks was regularly described as our own James Stewart, the soul of guy-next-door decency, but going back to his early roles in films like “Bachelor Party,” Hanks always had an edge. . Which is why her beauty was never cloying. (James Stewart had an edge, too. All great stars do.)

The opening scene of “A Man Called Otto” is promising, as Hanks Otto Anderson, a newly retired widower of nearly 60, tries to buy a measure of rope at a chain hardware store, only to learn that the store’s bureaucratic pricing protocol has won him five. Don’t let him pay for the foot rope he wants to buy. He has to pay for six feet. This completely unhinges him, not because he’s cheap but because it’s a built-in consumer exploitation that, to him, represents a greater relaxation of standards.

Hanks rambles on with an overwhelmingly self-justifying argument, and the clueless response from the store’s millennial clerks, who are doing their best to accommodate his rant, is the icing on the Hi-Dozen cake. The secret weapon in a scene like this is that even though Otto overreacts like a jerk, he’s somewhat accurate in his petulant and snarky ways. it is should A little annoying people, a corporation designs it so you can’t just buy five feet of rope.

If “A Man Called Auto” had followed through on that scene, it might have been a better movie — funnier, more biting, less formulaic — than the tearjerker by the numbers it slogged through. Imagine if Hanks’ character was stuck in a bad vibe, but most of his complaints were funny because they carried a caustic ring of truth. That sounds like a crowd-pleaser.

But David Magee, who wrote the script for “A Man Called Auto” (inspired by the 2015 Swedish film “A Man Called Ove”), and Marc Forster, who directed it, don’t have such fun in mind. The film begins with real-world roots but turns into a soft-headed “redemptive” fairy tale. Everything gets turned up a notch; Even the potentially raucous scene of Otto abusing a clown in the hospital dries up in the clown’s telegraphed overreaction. The movie is trying too hard stay A crowd-pleaser, so synthetic-for-its-reach, sitcom-meets-Hallmark heart, that it’s likely to be rarely enjoyable. This is the definition of a movie that deserves better than Tom Hanks.

Otto, in case you’re wondering, plans to use that five-foot rope to commit suicide. He’s still reeling from his wife’s recent death, and wants to hang himself in his living room (from a hole he punched in the ceiling – an apocalyptic plan or what?). I’ve never been crazy about botched-suicide comedies, going back to the prelude sequence in “Harold and Maude” (sorry, not a fan of that calculated cult ’70s quirkfest). Not because I think it’s so scandalous but because it’s actually, under the surface, quite emotional. The joke is always the same: that suicide fails because the person…Really want to live. In this case, the idea that Hanks’ Auto has given up life is a conceit audiences rarely pretend to buy.

Otto occupies a condo in the same happy blue prefab row-house development he married Sonia (Rachel Keller), the true love he first saw on a Philadelphia train platform — she dropped his book! Picked it up and ran after him! All the way across the platform! – When he was young.

The film is threaded with flashbacks of their relationship, and they build on the potentially effective stunt casting of Hanks’ 27-year-old son, Truman Hanks, as the younger Otto, who arrives in Philly to join the military, which turns out to be a disastrous mission that often involves Hanks’ acerbic actor son Colin. Seems like a chip off the old block, but Truman Hanks comes off as significantly sweeter, softer and more benign than his father. You’d have to cringe to buy him as a young Tom Hanks in almost any movie, but In this The movie, where we’re supposed to believe this angelic nerd has evolved into a sharp-tongued malcontent, is a leap.

Of course, it didn’t just happen. There was…event. And if there was only one, it wouldn’t have planted the film on conspiracy tracks. But “A Man Called Auto” is built on enough lame Screenwriting 101 devices to fill a trilogy of old-school second-rate awards-bait movies. Disaster strikes for Otto and Sonya. There is a long-standing estrangement between Otto and his friends and neighbors (Peter Lawson Jones and Juanita Jennings). And, of course, there’s the conceit that drives the film: Marisol (Mariana Trevino), Otto’s new neighbor, stumbles upon him for help, and he starts helping her so much that he practically becomes a respected member of the family.

If those don’t get to you, the movie makes a point of throwing in a transgender former student of Sonia’s who is there to demonstrate that Otto may be disgusted with the world but he sees it completely without prejudice. He is a villain with a heart of gold. “Otto Called a Man” wants to lift our spirits, but the problem with that is that the nicer Otto is, the more fake the movie becomes. It should have been called “Florid-est Grump”.

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