[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for A Man Called Otto.]
Up until a certain point in 2022, Kate Bush was having a great year: Thanks to a little show called Stranger Things, her 1985 single “Running Up That Hill” became the song of the summer, making an entire generation sit up and appreciate the English singer/songwriter. But then came a film called A Man Called Otto, and perhaps the worst use of a song in a movie I’ve ever seen. What A Man Called Otto does to “This Woman’s Work”… It isn’t just on the nose, it’s a middle finger jammed right up the left nostril.
There are no shortage of reasons why A Man Called Otto, the Tom Hanks-starring adaptation of Fredrik Backman’s acclaimed novel, doesn’t work. Many of them have to do with the choice to cast America’s Dad as a suicidal grump who wants nothing to do with the charming young family that’s just moved next door to him (spoiler alert: said charming young family helps Otto find a reason to live again). But in the hands of director Marc Forster, Backman’s story becomes painful melodrama, especially thanks to one of the ugliest sequences I’ve ever seen on screen.
Short version: Do you like the song “This Woman’s Work”? Do not watch A Man Called Otto, if you ever want to enjoy listening to it ever again.
A Man Called Otto is largely structured around a recently retired widower’s multiple attempts to die by suicide, using different methods that all backfire (the hook connecting the rope to the ceiling breaks, he’s interrupted while trying to inhale carbon monoxide in his garage). Along the way, we’ve been treated to glimpses of Otto’s life as a young man (played by Hanks’ son Truman), before tragedy transformed him into the grump we meet at the beginning of the film.
The reveal of the most traumatic event of Otto’s life occurs relatively late in the film, as he yet again attempts suicide, this time using a shotgun he’s had stashed in the attic. Otto’s meticulous preparations of his home for the aftermath of a fatal shotgun blast is intercut with flashbacks to a bus trip Otto took with his now-deceased wife (Rachel Keller) decades before; a crash led to the pregnant Sonya miscarrying and also becoming paralyzed.