VOD film review: A Man Called Ove
James R | On 30, Jun 2017
Director: Hannes Holm
Cast: Rolf Lassgård, Bahar Pars, Filip Berg
“Killing oneself isn’t so easy, you know,” reflects Ove (Lassgård) in A Man Called Ove, after attempting to commit suicide several times. If that’s the kind of joke that shocks you, A Man Called Ove will win you over with its balance of glib existential despair and humour. If, however, you’ve seen films about grumpy old men learning life lessons about being less grumpy, you’ll be less enchanted.
Hannes Holm’s film, Oscar nominated for Best Foreign Language Film, is based on the bestselling novel by Fredrik Backman, and tells the story of resident angry pensioner Ove, who terrorises his neighbourhood with his obsessive enforcing of community rules. The kind of man who’d install electrocuting tiles to stop a dog peeing on his driveway, he makes Oscar the Grouch look like Little Miss Sunshine. Rolf Lassgård (who has previous when it comes to moody, thanks to Wallander) does an excellent job as the weary husk of a human, his bitter rage almost visibly propelling himself forward, as he shuffles and stoops down from his lofty 6-foot-plus height to sneer at those beneath him in every sense of the word.
He’s so good at being nasty, in fact, that it makes Ove hard to root for. The biggest obstacle to our sympathy, though, is the script: the challenge of making a film that’s engaging with such a horrible protagonist is nothing new, and that, rather than the challenge itself, is the problem. Despite Rolf’s committed turn as the lonely widower, there’s not enough here that feels fresh or surprising to fully entertain. Holm’s screenplay has the rather innovative, if morbid, idea of framing the whole narrative around his repeated efforts to take his own life, with each one triggering a flashback to a time when his wife was still alive.
While it’s a bold bookend in principle, the segments, in practice, don’t always land; the accident that took his wife is horrifyingly immediate when it unfolds, but other parts merely reduce their relationship to the familiar cliched milestones – and, with only brief bursts of history served up every time, Ove’s wife never really gets a chance to do more than smile nicely for the camera. The cyclical narrative device, meanwhile, soon loses its novelty.
With little to sink our teeth into, and less of a sense of their passionate bond, our heartstrings aren’t pulled so much by the film’s second half. At the same time, the slightly tonal mismatch means that many of the jokes, which should spark the kind of sidesplitting jobs pain inflicted by Manchester by the Sea, also fall flat. It’s telling that Bahar Pars turns out to be the star of the show, instead, as Ove gets to know his determined neighbour, who wants to learn to drive and will gladly insist that Ove teach her until he relents. She helps to make their relationship one that believably thaws the ice man’s heart, but it’s still not enough to shake off the feeling that we’ve seen it before. It’s sweet, but like being force-fed Werther’s Originals, it soon becomes overly familiar.