The only thing you could say against the Oscar-nominated crowd pleaser “A Man Called Ove” is that it’s too lovable. Maybe the story of a curmudgeon unwillingly recalled to life after the death of his beloved wife is too heartwarming, too sweet, the ending too perfectly satisfying. We can argue about that if you want to, but in our excruciating current climate, just sit back and enjoy, OK? It’s in Swedish so you have to read, and it will do you good.
The story is not entirely treacly sweetness. The story of Ove’s life is plenty sad, illuminated for the viewer in a series of flashbacks. Present-day Ove (Rolf Lassgård) is a pain in the neck, obsessed with enforcing the rules of his neighborhood. We learn that his meticulous nature is a defense against the pain of life’s uncontrollable forces, his way of shoring up against fate. Fate, we learn, has been plenty cruel to our crotchety hero, so much so that the present day finds him eager and determined to join his wife in death.
Comically, Ove’s suicide attempts are interrupted by the arrival of a boisterous new family of neighbors, the hapless father backing their car and trailer over Ove’s proudly maintained mailbox just as he attempts to hang himself. So vigorous is Ove’s commitment to order that he postpones his date with destiny in order to properly back up the family’s car. A series of handyman jobs repeatedly calls him back to life.
In time, his bond with the family grows, and more meaningful connections form. The wife, Parvaneh (Bahar Pars), is a straight-talking Iranian immigrant, which does make the film semi-relevant to current events. Also the actress, a Swedish citizen born in Iran, is in limbo over attending the Oscars to support the film, which is nominated for “Best Foreign Language Film.”
She is a feisty, short, pregnant foil to Ove, and they come to admire one another despite their differences. Ove’s perceptions of her husband’s ineptitudes are another source of hilarity.
Meanwhile, we come to know Ove’s vibrant wife, Sonja, as he remembers her. Their relationship was also somewhat mismatched; she was a bold, vibrant woman who brought out the best in the reserved, kindhearted Ove.
After a lifetime spent serving Sonja’s vision of how to make the world better, Ove almost forgets the kind of man she made him into. A crisis with a lifelong friend turned enemy calls him back to himself for an immensely satisfying conclusion.
Unless you are simply opposed on principle to feeling uplifted by a mordantly humorous melodrama, you will dab your sad old eyes at “A Man Called Ove.” Even if you inexplicably choose not to view it, circle it on your unofficial Oscar ballot — it’s a surefire crowd pleaser.
“A Man Called Ove” is currently available to rent.