Ove (Rolf Lassgard) is rigid, resolute, decisive, cynical, cantankerous, embittered, emboldened, unfriendly. But mostly he is a man of simple means who wants things just to his liking. He doesn’t like people driving through his neighborhood, as it is strictly forbidden. He argues over the coupon price of a bouquet of flowers that he leaves for his deceased wife. And, when he loses his job of 43 years to a pair of 20-somethings, he decides to hang himself from his living room ceiling.
Except, each time he tries, he is interrupted by his new neighbors: a family who means well in spite of pushing all of Ove’s buttons.
The narrative of an elderly man hardened over the grief for a lost spouse is nothing new. Think Up or Gran Torino. It is a simple premise, but in this case it is executed gracefully.
The only time it is not involves flashbacks that over-dramatize Ove’s origin story with lens flares, sun-gazing, and zooms. The contemporary timeline is much more austere, mimicking Ove’s matter-of-fact attitude toward his own mortality. These instances, which frame the story of the film itself, are presented with more power and less melodrama than the flashbacks.
Indeed, the film works best when it avoids melodrama and works instead at being a black comedy. Ove’s equally stubborn convictions over cars and life give most of his interactions a dry humor. The film has a verve in its comedy where its drama is drab.
The film is a character study, and while its title character is not novel, he certainly is sympathetic. A story of life, love, and aging requires something to keep it from falling into tired cliches. Life, love, and aging are, after all, the three most common themes of fictional narratives.
To accommodate for this, Ove is a tragic character whose unwavering pride gets in the way of having meaningful relationships. While this too is woefully archetypal, the moments where Ove’s thick veneer cracks and his gracious inner nature shows are worth drudging through the mess of conventions. This and the film’s knack for dark comedy make A Man Called Ove something slightly above convention.
A Man Called Ove: B-
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)