While not exactly a genre in itself, movies about grumpy old men were once pretty common and came in all forms. Think about this variety for a second – Scrooge from “A Christmas Carol”, Clint Eastwood’s “Grand Torino”, the Pixar gem “Up”, and of course the two “Grumpy Old Men” movies. This is just a handful of examples yet none of these films are quite like the Swedish dramedy “A Man Called Ove”.
Rolf Lassgård stars and plays the title character Ove. He’s a crusty old curmudgeon who runs his neighborhood association with an iron fist even though he was deposed as its president a few years earlier. His zero-tolerance policies puts him at odds with some residents while others laugh him off as Ove being Ove. Things get even worse after he is squeezed into early retirement by his young supervisors.
The cantankerous Ove meets his match when a young family moves in across the street. Things get off to a rocky start with Ove letting them have it for every little infraction. But the young mother Parvaneh (Bahar Pars) is impervious to Ove’s belligerence. In fact, she kind of gets a kick out of it. What follows is an unexpected friendship with potential life-changing effects for Parvaneh but especially Ove.
This odd relationship helps to crack open the Ove character and reveal the reasons for his misery. He slowly makes more sense to us. The frequent visits to his wife’s grave and a series of flashbacks paint a picture of a man stricken by heartbreak, sorrow, and loneliness. But don’t let that fool you. This is a black comedy at its core. There are some really good laughs some from unexpected places. Writer-director Hannes Holm juggles the wacky range of emotions and the periodic time hops fairly seamlessly which is no small task.
Lassgård deserves a lot of credit as well. His stone-faced persona is helped by some really good makeup (for which it earned an Oscar nomination) but is mostly carried by the actor’s charisma. There’s also Lassgård’s snarling snark which is so finely in sync with Holm’s wickedly funny dialogue. And when he’s asked to tone down the crabbiness (ever so slightly) the actor pulls it off without coming across as manipulative.
“A Man Called Ove” was a huge hit in its native Sweden becoming the third highest-grossing domestic movie in the nation’s history. It’s easy to see why. Despite his prickly nature the film’s protagonist is easy to enjoy and eventually sympathize with. That’s mainly due to the surprising amount of tenderness packed into the story and a fabulous lead performance. And now two well-deserved Oscar nominations are icing on this surprise hit’s cake.
VERDICT – 4.5 STARS