Ove is a crusty old man. He spends all day policing his neighbourhood: yelling at people driving in restricted zones, yelling at bicycles parked haphazardly, yelling at sales clerks for the logical inconsistencies of the store’s coupons, yelling at stray animals for being in his field of vision. He’s a cantankerous gentleman, set in his ways, who really, really wants people to Get Off His Lawn.
Given the premise of A Man Called Ove, do you imagine that there might be scenes of people chipping away at Ove’s thorny armour? Maybe some local children who inexplicably love him, and cause his grinch heart to grow? Maybe a neighbour who pokes and prods in an effort to get his back story? Perhaps a cuddly animal who initially annoys Ove, but eventually becomes an object of affection? If you’ve imagined those things, then you’ve probably also imagined that the reason Ove is such an ass is because of some horrific tragedy in his past, and that once the audience discovers the source of this agony, they’ll be awash with compassion for this splenetic curmudgeon.
The reason that you may have imagined these things is because you’ve seen them all before. A Man Called Ove is so generically paint-by-numbers, you can almost see the numbers on the screen in every scene—and not even in the cool Peter Greenaway way. Every plot point, every emotional beat, every supporting character quirk is imported directly from the Scriptwriting 101 Outline I presume accompanies copies of Final Draft software. Generic in construction, it is no less generic in execution: director Hannes Holm’s visual style lies somewhere between ‘CBS family drama’ and ‘ABC prime time soap opera.’
Characterisations are also generic. Ove’s late wife is a one-dimensional saint (in flashbacks). His Persian neighbour can’t drive, but otherwise seems to have no inner life. There’s even a gay character here—you can tell, because Holm gives him eyeliner to wear. Oh, those silly gays, and their effeminate ways! And, of course, there’s Ove, and if you’ve seen Gran Torino you’ve already sussed him.
I may have overused the word ‘generic’ in this review, but this is exactly what A Man Called Ove is: genteel, undemanding entertainment, that begins to vaporise in your mind mere minutes after the credits begin rolling. It might give you a mildly warm feeling, but won’t do much else for you—like Cup-A-Soup, which also isn’t very filling. It’s not just a shame that this is the film Sweden submitted for Oscar consideration (a better film won the top Guldbagge Award), but that it actually made the shortlist over better submissions from France, Venezuela, Spain, Chile, Romania, the United Kingdom, and, oh, maybe a dozen other countries. But hey, if you’re looking for characters you already know in a story you already know who will make you feel pre-planned emotions, then give it a go.