A Man Called Ove Rolf Lassgård, Bahar Pars, Ida Engvoll. Directed by Hannes Holm. Rated PG-13. Opens Friday at Regal Village Square.
There’s a running gag in the Swedish hit A Man Called Ove about the title character’s thwarted attempts to commit suicide, but the movie isn’t nearly as dark at that plot point indicates. Although Ove (Rolf Lassgård), a curmudgeonly senior citizen dealing with the loss of his wife and the end of his career, does indeed try to kill himself, those attempts are mostly half-hearted, and the movie is a feel-good dramedy about an old crank learning to appreciate life again. It’s no surprise that the movie (based on an equally popular novel) dominated the box office in its native country and was nominated in six categories at Sweden’s top film awards. If it were in English and starred Tom Hanks, it would no doubt be positioned to win a bunch of Oscars (Sweden has made it the country’s official submission for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar this year).
At first, Ove’s grumpiness is endearing, as he single-handedly enforces the nitpicky rules of his local neighborhood association, argues with retail clerks and bemoans modern technology and the attitudes of kids today. But as Ove slowly warms to his neighbors and reveals the tragedy-filled life (doled out tediously in flashbacks) that made him so angry and closed off, the movie becomes more sentimental and manipulative, especially in its depiction of the younger Ove’s relationship with his wife Sonja (Ida Engvoll), a one-dimensional beaming saint. Ove has a more layered relationship with his new neighbor Parvaneh (Bahar Pars), an Iranian immigrant whose upbeat positivity brings him out of his shell, but who doesn’t cut him any slack on his antisocial tendencies. Even their connection ends up smothered in sap, though, and what could have been an understated but effective dramedy turns every emotion into a drawn-out pseudo-profound lesson. Writer-director Hannes Holm tugs so hard on the audience’s heartstrings that they eventually wear out.