A Man Called Ove (2015) / Comedy-Drama
aka En man som heter Ove
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for thematic content, some disturbing images, and language
Running Time: 116 min.
Cast: Rolf Lassgard, Bahar Pars, Ida Engvoll, Filip Berg, Tobias Almborg, Holger Hasten, Viktor Baggoe, Borge Lundberg
Director: Hannes Holm
Screenplay: Hannes Holm (based on the novel by Fredrick Backman)
Review published November 25, 2016
On its surface, A Man Called Ove would seem like another tried-and-true formula comedy about a grumpy older person who antagonizes everyone around him with insults and petty grievances, only to end up getting their ice-cold heart warmed up by the people he initially dismissed around him in the end. These kinds of films are usually good for a few good laughs due to the early stages of comic brashness, then some of the more heart-warming elements in the end to tie it all up in a neat bow. They are predictable, to be sure, but generally serve as passable entertainment for those in the mood.
A Man Called Ove does subscribe to this formula in its initial plot, but to dismiss the film as just that would be doing a disservice to what ends up being so much more than that. Director Hannes Holm provides the adaptation of the best-selling novel by Swedish author Frederick Backman, which blends black comedy, broad farce, touching romance, heartfelt drama, and melancholy tragedy elements into one satisfying whole, as the narrative shifts in both time and tone to give us a complete picture of the titular character, and his righteous indignation with the rest of the world, even if that world doesn't extend far beyond his immediate neighborhood.
The film is a triumph of capturing and maintaining proper tone throughout, even when it goes into some very dark places in between the comedy, sometimes even during some of the darkest of it, including suicide attempts on the part of Ove in his inability to cope with the loss of his wife and job. Ove, ever the fastidious rulebook thumper, can't bear to pass from the world when there are people clearly violating the homeowners code around him. The inner turmoil Ove feels is real and not mocked at all, resulting in some very effective emotional elements, but Ove still manages to remain a comic figure due to his stubborn inability to let other people get away with what he feels are transgressions against neighborhood etiquette that no one else seems interested in aiding by. Since no one else will do it, Ove takes it upon himself to be the one who polices the situation, unable to resist scolding those who commit 'infractions', and also begrudgingly unable to turn down those who are asking for his assistance.
Much of the comedy stems from the personal inconveniences that crop up for Ove when a new family moves in next door, a daft Swedish local and his pushy pregnant wife Parveneh, as well as their two rambunctious children. The husband is so inept that Ove, of course, feels it is his obligation to help with their household chores, as he can't stomach seeing how the current generation has no idea how to tend to their own needs.
In addition to Old Man Ove being either a terror or a saint to those around him, we get repeated flashbacks to Ove in his youth, starting with his relationship with his father, the beginning of his days working at the railroad where he would spend the next four decades, and his romance with his beloved Sonja, whose gravesite he regularly visits to clear his mind and conscience, vowing to join her soon. These scenes also form the basis of some of his more comical idiosyncrasies, such as his undying adoration for Saabs and disgust for Volvos.
With smiles, a few laughs, and pathos to spare, A Man Named Ove emerges as a cinematic delight for those who typically enjoy whimsical foreign films that have a depth of characterization to make us actually feel something for the characters by the end.
©2016 Vince Leo