A warm story of a cranky old widower and his family of neighbors
At first, the eponymous Ove (burly, moonfaced Rolf Lassgård) comes off as a supersized version of the standard-issue grumpy old man. He’s a serial scoffer, an apparent loner, rather stand-offish and not much inclined to socialize, let alone “make nice.”
Soon enough, however, we see that his mostly younger acquaintances, at work and in his tidy little suburban neighborhood, tolerate him, more or less, both as local eccentric and as resident curmudgeon. And through flashbacks and everyday occurrences, we begin to understand why there’s so much sorrow mixed in with his amusingly quarrelsome quibbles and complaints.
When we first meet Ove, he’s arguing with a store clerk who’s explaining to him why he can’t use a 2-for-1 coupon on the purchase of a single bouquet of flowers. Shortly afterward, we learn that the flowers are for his weekly visit to the grave of his wife, Sonja (a glowing Ida Engvoll). Flashbacks show us that Sonja remains a fresh and intense presence in Ove’s memories, a half-decade after her death from cancer. And the same thing seems to be true with the one distinctly heroic figure in Ove’s life, his father (Stefan Gödicke), who also died relatively young.
Ove’s sorrows reach a crisis point when he’s laid off from work, by the two feckless millennials who’ve inherited the small factory at which he’s worked since adolescence. And that crisis seems to dovetail with troubles at the housing complex: there’s the growing threat of a hostile corporate takeover, and on a more personal level, Ove seems particularly discombobulated when an oddball neighbor (goofy Tobias Almborg) suddenly returns with a new wife, a charmingly pragmatic immigrant woman named Parvaneh (Bahar Pars), with two young children of her own in tow.
Parvaneh, in the story’s relatively upbeat second half, and Sonja, in the flashbacks, are the film’s saving graces. They are also the prime emissaries of the warmhearted goodwill that emerges as the film’s presiding sentiment. The psychology of each woman’s rather angelic attachment to Ove is never very clear, but the story (adapted from Fredrik Backman’s best-selling novel) and the performances of Pars and Ingvoll generate currents of emotion that seem to sustain the whole enterprise.
The Swedish film, however, is probably at its best in the earlier portions when it’s flirting with tragicomedy of a rather rambunctious sort. After all, A Man Called Ove also puts across a number of brash, serio-comic motifs—Ove’s farcical series of suicide attempts, an ongoing feud over makes of car (Saab vs. Audi!), Ove’s deep-seated disdain for “the whiteshirts” (bureaucrats), petty-minded power struggles at the homeowners’ association, etc. Plus, the cat that lives with Ove registers as one of the film’s most distinctive characters (and one of its best actors, as well).