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Written and directed by Hannes Holm, and based on Fredrik Backman’s book of the same name, A Man Called Ove is a Swedish comedy-drama that, despite a few good performances and picturesque visuals, is far too predictable to make much of an impact.
Ove (Rolf Lassgård, with Filip Berg as the young Ove) is a grumpy old widower who lives alone in a townhouse neighborhood. Depressed because of the death of his wife Sonja (Ida Engvoll) several months prior, as well as losing the job he’s had for 43 years, Ove decides to take his own life – only to have his plans foiled by pregnant Iranian immigrant Parvaneh (Bahar Pars) who moves in across the street with her family. The two develop an unlikely friendship.
The crotchety old man with a heart of gold routine is nothing new and A Man Called Ove is content with following it to the letter. Every plot point and emotional beat can be seen coming a mile away and that is by far the movie’s most glaring weakness. There’s a sincerity to the writing and the performances, particularly Lassgård and Berg, but it’s hard to get pass the fact that they’re going over well-worn tropes without adding much of anything new or interesting.
Take, for instance, the cat that Ove repeatedly catches snooping near his house and angrily tries to shoo away. If you’ve already guessed that at some point he’ll end up adopting it, then don’t expect to be surprised by anything that happens in A Man Called Ove. It can be heartfelt and moving, of that, there is no doubt, but it’s also unmistakably familiar.
The dramatic elements are handled a lot better than the comedic ones. A time-lapse of Ove and his neighbor Rune (Börje Lundberg) developing a decades-long rivalry over their car preferences (as well as in general the running joke of Ove talking about cars) was fun. Ove repeatedly trying to kill himself and failing for various reasons also finds ways to be morbidly amusing. Most of the rest of the jokes, however, arise from situations and circumstances that are just too slight to be particularly funny. It plays out like a halfhearted attempt at getting a light chuckle out of the audience.
Visually, A Man Called Ove is quite pretty. The flashback sequences that explore Ove’s past and his relationship with Sonja, in particular, has a bright, vibrant postcard feel to them. That being said, it is a little weird, perhaps even off-putting, that the framing device for the flashbacks tends to be “Ove remembering the past while choking to death”.
A Man Called Ove most resembles one of those movies that you stumble across while having nothing better to do on a slow day. A pleasant distraction that’s neither corny enough to be unwatchable nor interesting enough to be really memorable. You watch it, enjoy it and then forget about it almost instantly. It’s not a bad movie, not by any stretch, but it’s a little too safe and a little too predictable to be a good one. It’s just OK.