These Neighbors Are Idiots! (Film Review: “A Man Called Ove”)


Sometimes no matter how many times you try to end it all, your neighbors just keep interrupting. This little gem from Sweden reminds us that no man is an island. And also that Saabs are better than Volvos.

SnapShot Plot

A Man Called Ove, based on the acclaimed Swedish novel by Fredrik Backman, is a gentle lesson on the perils of human isolation, especially as we age and are forced to adapt after the loss of a loved one. It’s a familiar story: Ove is a grumpy, malcontent older man whose small community of neighbors absolutely infuriates him, which he’s not shy about sharing. He’s mad at the world and takes it out on any man or beast who crosses his path. Of course, his anger is just a front for his unbearable grief at the recent loss of his beloved wife, Sonja, who we meet in a series of elaborate flashbacks including vignette’s from Ove’s own childhood. The juxtaposition between the mild-mannered young Ove and the irascible man before us seems jarring until we are witness to his daily visits to Sonja’s grave, where he expresses his deep loneliness without her and his promise not to keep her waiting too much longer to see him again. A man of his word, Ove literally has the noose around his neck when his attention is distracted by the commotion outside his home. It’s the new neighbors noisily moving in and the idiots can’t even back their trailer up without smashing into his mailbox. What’s a stoic rule enforcer to do but rush out there and show them how it’s done? Hence the start of Ove’s reluctant, newfound role of neighbor himself to the people around him whose problems keep on distracting him from his own suicidal goal in life.



Parting Shot

There are a few things that prevent Oscar-nominated A Man Called Ove from turning into a sweet, treacly mess. One of them is the fine central performance by Rolf Lassgård in the title role, whose portrayal of Ove is as far from sentimental as possible. When he barely cracks a smile, it’s almost miraculous, and all the more potent. You may recognize Lassgård in the title role of the original Swedish production of the crime series, Wallander (later adapted for a British audience and starring Kevin Branagh). He also had a feature role in the fine Danish film, After the Wedding (starring the incomparable Mads Mikkelsen).

The other thing that saves the tone from turning soggy is the stylized, imperious musical score, especially during the first half of the movie. It tells us to take Ove’s sour disposition with a grain of salt, making his aggressive actions seem more like antics than anything more threatening.

Tom Hanks has been reported to produce and star in an upcoming Hollywood adaptation of the Swedish film, here written and directed by Hannes Holm. It remains to be seen if the American version will adhere to the emotionally restrained Scandinavian original or heap on an extra helping of sugary sentiment. In any case, A Man Called Ove can teach us all a thing or two about what it means to be a neighbor, no matter what car you drive.

A Man Called Ove is presently streaming on Amazon Prime.

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YouTube Trailer:

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