Director-writer Hannes Holm has done a fanciful, if at times saccharine job of bringing Fredrik Backman’s novel to the big screen. Everyone who knows the pain of losing a spouse and/or child will identify with many of the scenes and situations; those who see themselves as the only person on Earth who knows the right way yo do things—relegating all of those hapless, ignorant souls to the land of idiots—will initially cheer the high-minded protagonist on, but then feel the heat of shame and embarrassment when major assumptions are proved to be, well “needs a little bit of assistance” in the honesty department.
From the opening frames of recent widower Ove’s (Rolf Lassgård devours the role with gusto) rose rage purchasing flowers (with a coupon!) to place on his departed wife Sonja’s (alluringly done up by Ida Engvoll) grave, viewers immediately begin to sense that Ove’s cantankerous nature is fuelled by something much deeper than arguing over a few kroner with a cashier just doing her job.
Back home in his gated neighbourhood, Gaute Storass’ pizzicato-rich original score serves aural notice that there’s much fun afoot, so that the first of several suicide attempts (always wearing his Sunday best) to fulfill a promise to join his beloved, can be taken with a wink and a nod. Unfortunately—as happens in several other of the plot threads—the artistic team visit the well of various means of self-inflicted departure too often, gradually weakening the impact of the early tries.
Nonetheless, fully employing the notion that life passes before your eyes on the way out, the stage is seamlessly set for a number of flashbacks to Ove’s earlier days. Accordingly, the backstory of Ove’s father instilling the joy of all things mechanical—and particualry the superiority of Saab automobiles—and life working for the railway is effortlessly established. Not surprisingly, college-age Ove (Lasse Carlsson does a commendable job in his Importance of Being Ove approach), meets the future love of his life on the train after being literally burnt out of the family home by the dreaded white shirts (greedy entrepreneurs) who would come back to plague the mature Ove in many ways.
But the grouchy old man—foiled time after time executing himself—soon has a new family including the neighbourhood stray cat, refugees from Iran and recently self-outed gay man who all find their way into Ove’s sphere and under his roof.
A long-simmering feud between Ove and friend Rune (well at least until their bust-up when the latter staged a palace coup to oust the former from his position as president of the tenants association: the final straw being Rune’s purchase of a BMW—see Saab, above) serves as the catalyst for Ove’s moral rehabilitation, having to admit that in some of his beliefs, he was just as much an idiot as those he disdained.
The big-hearted (literally, it turns out as well as metaphorically) man vows to make amends with Sonja as his angelic witness proceeds to right several wrongs but before a moving confessional to Parvaneh (mother of two, pregnant again newcomer; ideally played by Bahar Pars) as to the tragic events that soured his ability to ever repeat his father’s words, “This is the life.”
The outcome is never in doubt and the rampant predictability of “what happens next” somewhat soils the finish, but this Life of Ove will warm many, many hearts and seldom fail to elicit a few tears along the way. JWR