A Man Called Ove, based on a book by Fredrik Backman, looks, well, it looks like a touching story of an old, bitter man who learns late life lessons through his neighbors. But it’s Swedish, so what the hell do I know.
Here’s the thing about A Man Called Ove: it is exactly as cheesy and predictable as the film’s description makes it out to be. A man, let’s call him Ove (Rolf Lassgard), lives in a housing community in a small part of Sweden. His wife has died a few months earlier and he is, to be frank, a pompous, controlling asshole. He, or so he thinks, rules over his little hamlet with an iron, if not ignored, fist. His neighbors – a quirky bunch of grinning stereotypes – put up with him, but no love is lost. And then, as it often happens in these flicks, a pregnant woman (Bahar Pars) and her family move into an adjacent unit and through a little bit of movie magic, Ove grows a heart and everything, to some degree, kind of works out. In America, this film would be recycled trash that Reese Witherspoon pooed on the sidewalk so she could buy a second house for her yorki-poo. In Sweden though (and I believe that nothing bad comes out of Sweden except the occasional rash of systemic racism) this is a remarkably entertaining and heart-warming film. Director Hannes Holm doesn’t rest on the laurels of blandly lit conference rooms and cliche-filled dialogue (though yes, this film is rife with those) as he could with the old “mean guy grows a heart” genre of film. Instead A Man Called Ove is a beautifully shot, exceptionally acted piece of bittersweet dramedy. Rolf Lassgard’s Ove is a ticking time bomb of anger, a coiled beast that has lost his balance with the passing of his wife, and now stalks the paths of his housing unit like a lion with a knack for fixing stuff. Lassgard plays the role just right, setting the base level of Ove’s emotional foundation as just gruff enough to be offensive, allowing the character some true space to grow, and in the best scenes in the film, giving Ove a jumping off point for some truly catastrophic emotional explosions. It’s a wonder to watch, and with every moment of sun-shiny bullshit the film throws out (with grace and high production value) there’s always Ove, twitching in the background, possibly on the verge of eruption. But this is, well, that kind of film, where largely everything wraps up nicely, and you end up with tears on your cheeks on a shit-eater on your face. It doesn’t try to stray from the path that the old-guy-gets-nicer dramedy genre has set out for it and though it’ll never win an award for originality, it does what it does with aplomb. You want an artsy, challenging, edgy film, then turn away. You want a nice little movie with a nice gooey, quirky center, then A Man Called Ove will do you well.
One Last Thought:
There’s a large plot point in the film that revolves around the government trying to put away an old man because he needs more attention than his wife can give him, which I guess is a thing in Sweden. If you’re old, you go in a – probably nice – home where nurses and doctors take care of you. In this, strangely, the Swedes are angry at the government for trying to provide for the elderly. I’m American, so this I don’t understand.