Leave it to the Swedes to make a comedy-drama about an elderly widower’s unsuccessful attempts at suicide into the feel-good movie of 2016. A Man Called Ove strikes a rare balance between sardonicism and optimism, between hope and hilarious misanthropy, and succeeds thanks to excellent performances and a thoughtful story that would have drowned in sentimentality in less capable hands than writer-director Hannes Holm’s.
A Man Called Ove
PG-13, 116 minutes
Violet Crown Cinema
We meet Ove (Rolf Lassgård) as he argues with a checkout clerk over the meaning of a coupon to save money on flowers—flowers, as it turns out, that are meant to be left on his wife Sonja’s grave as part of his regular visits. He then unloads his frustration with the situation to Sonja as he sweetly confesses that he misses her, promising to be reunited with her soon. This is a perfect introduction to Ove, his worldview, what he values and how deeply he feels. The trouble comes when his inability to leave well enough alone collides with his desire to leave a world that seemingly has nothing more to offer him, when he sees his neighbor is incapable of backing a car with his trailer hitch at the exact moment he is attempting to hang himself.
Bit by bit, Ove becomes involved in his neighbors’ lives and problems, sometimes reluctantly but often out of frustration that they cannot follow the rules or complete household tasks themselves. Gradually, his suicide attempts become more infrequent as he becomes a steady part of their lives, particularly Parvaneh (Bahar Pars), an Iranian woman who both enjoys Ove’s company and refuses to relent to his stubbornness. A mother of two, soon to be three, and a caretaker of sorts to her less-than-handy husband, her tolerance for nonsense is even lower than Ove’s, but her enormous capacity to empathize motivates Ove to peel back the layers of his entrenched personality.
You can see how A Man Called Ove could have easily given way to sappiness, as the story of a rough but sensitive man from a previous generation whose defenses gradually get worn down. Where the film stands apart is in the way it explores how he became so closed off to begin with—giving the character more depth than if he had simply been an ornery old man. Ove revisits his past when he has a moment to reflect, usually as an attempt on his life nears success or when he’s feeling vulnerable with Parvaneh. She becomes something of a daughter to him, a fact that is significant as we learn about his relationship with his father, why he and Sonja never had children and the gradual way in which the young man with an enormous work ethic who married the woman of his dreams became the rules-obsessed, aggressive loner we see today.
Among the most remarkable aspects of A Man Called Ove is the way it balances all of the emotions of both its leading man and its diverse supporting cast. Laugh-out-loud moments bleed into near-tragic events without a drastic shift in style or tone, as director Holm tells the story in a mostly subdued manner that is befitting Ove himself. His suicide attempts are never stopped by cold feet or regret, but by an immediate reminder of his use in today’s world, and his portrayal by Lassgård is second to none. Sensitive, insightful, funny and intelligent, A Man Called Ove is a wonderful film that defies all expectations.
Playing this week
Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX
The Shops at Stonefield, 244-3213
Allied, Almost Christmas, Arrival, Bad Santa 2, Doctor Strange, The Edge of Seventeen, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Hacksaw Ridge, Incarnate, Moana, Rules Don’t Apply, Trolls
Violet Crown Cinema
200 W. Main St., Downtown Mall, 529-3000
Allied, Arrival, Bad Santa 2, Blue, Doctor Strange, Gimme Danger, The Handmaiden, Loving, Moana, Moonlight, Rules Don’t Apply