Movies about grumpy old men learning to lighten up thanks to colorful neighbors are hardly novel. And yet A Man Called Ove (based on Fredrik Backman’s 2012 novel) works its well-worn conceit to effective heartstring-tugging effect.
Ove (Rolf Lassgård) is a “nit-picking obstructionist” widower who polices his tiny town like a tyrant and is desperate to kill himself so he can be reunited with his late, beloved wife, Sonja (Ida Engvoll). Those suicidal plans are constantly interrupted by his community’s residents, most notably a just-moved-in family of four led by Iranian-born Parvaneh (Bahar Pars), who shrugs off Ove’s nastiness with preternatural bigheartedness.
As Ove’s icy exterior begins to thaw, writer-director Hannes Holm gives us lengthy flashbacks to Ove’s youth with his own widowered father and to his marriage to Sonja — alternately sorrowful and joyous incidents that deepen the character, casting his senior-citizen gruffness as the natural byproduct of accumulated experience.
It’s never in doubt that the film is headed in an uplifting direction, but whether through Ove and Parvaneh’s relationship, his and lifelong friend Rune’s (Börje Lundberg) rivalry (rooted in their respective allegiance to Saab and Volvo cars), or Ove’s role in a young Muslim boy’s coming out, A Man Called Ove — preaching tolerant togetherness as the key to happiness — earns its sentimentality by striking a delicate balance between barking-mad comedy and syrupy melodrama.
A Man Called Ove
Written and directed by Hannes Holm
Music Box Films
Opens September 30, Paris Theatre and Angelika Film Center