For the longest time, ‘A Man Called Ove’ sat on my To-Be-Read Shelf on my Kindle as I read through Sanderson’s Cosmere novels for the past eighteen months or so without sparing a blink at the other novels. This was until I decided to take a break from Sanderson this month and read the other e-books gathering e-dust on my e-reader (Sorry, for being so frivolous with the e’s).
And that move was complimented by a trailer of a movie that came up on YouTube feed one fine day. A movie called ‘A Man Called Otto’. This suddenly reminded me of the Fredrick Backman book I had sitting on my Kindle and decided to finally give it a read. Watching a movie of a book-adaption before reading the book it is based on felt like a crime I had no intention to commit. So without clicking on the video to watch the trailer, I saved it to ‘Watch Later’ and grabbed my Kindle to read the book at once.
And boy, was it impressive. For those looking for a quick review, I gave this title a 5-Star review on GoodReads without thinking twice. It’s been a while since I read a 5-star book which is why I felt the need to write about this. We need to talk about this book, no matter how late (~11 years) I am to the party…
Let’s talk about the plot before we dive into what I liked and disliked in the book and finally the movie review:
The plot of ‘A Man Called Ove’ follows the story of a grumpy, old man named Ove who is struggling to cope with the recent loss of his wife. As he tries to take his own life, he is constantly interrupted by his new neighbors and their persistent attempts to befriend him. Through these interactions-cum-interruptions, Ove’s life is transformed as he learns to find joy and meaning in the world once again.
What I liked…
- The Character and their Arc
Let’s talk about Ove first - he is a no-nonsense man. He doesn’t like small talk or even big talk for any reason. He likes to keep it simple with one-line replies and nodes and head shakes if they work in the situation. Above all, he is a man of principle. He feels everyone should have the same, if not some, set of their own principles and should abide by them in life and not give them up for any reason. Because what is a man without any principles?
He may not understand everything in the changing times but he does not like to be told that. He believes he is right and he hates to be wrong. But at the same time, he is not completely ignorant or arrogant. He has his own views on things (a reflection of his principles) but he understands how things evolve over time. Also, he doesn’t understand some slang and phrases that people use to describe him or things around him, making him usually indifferent to haters or trollers and completely rude to some good people around him.
And that’s what’s most relatable about Ove. Many of us are like Ove in some way or the other. We hate to be told we are wrong and like doing things our way. In many ways, Ove is a tribute to that attitude within us.
Then we have Parvaneh — the Pregnant One. She arrives in the story as a God-send angel to stop Ove from taking his life (on multiple occasions) through her continued interruptions. Ove hates the interruptions and grows to like her guts as she takes care of the entire family including the Lanky One, Patrick — her husband (as Ove describes him). Ove never seems to speak his mind so we don’t exactly know how he feels about her and her family but he clearly seems to miss Sonja and the child he lost to the unfateful bus accident in Spain, making him always wonder what it would have been like to have kids in the house.
Rune and Anita share a special bond with Ove and Sonja. They are not just neighbors but friends of a special sort. Especially, Sonja and Anita who seem to have made a small congregation to discuss how their husbands are the same and how they go about managing them. I feel that Rune is just Ove born in another family and probably the answer to the question “what if Ove liked Volvo and had kids?”. The duo had lots of similar interests, behavior, likes, and dislikes, which clearly shows up when both of them don’t seem to get along with each other.
Other characters like Misrad and Jimmy appear in the story constantly trying to reveal the side of Ove he is too scared to put out — like Ove constantly shutting Jimmy off or calling Misrad bend without realizing how he has offended anyone with his speech or thoughts.
Ove feels his life ended when Sonja died, but through the lives of the people around him, he is constantly reminded of how much the neighborhood needs him.
2. The Cat
We cannot end this conversation about characters without talking about the most important non-human character in the story — the Cat. I love the organic build-up leading to Ove adopting the cat and the way the cat manages to make her own space in his house. There are changing PoVs where the narration seems to be from the cat’s perspective of how Ove goes around the day doing his stuff, which totally cracked me up whenever it came up. I am not really a cat person myself but this Cat is worth all the praise. Ove realizes this too as he prepares its food every day and even cares for her and does not discomfort her as he plots his last suicide attempt by leaving some country music playing on the radio as he shoots himself with a gun.
What I disliked…
I wish it was longer. That’s it.
I wanted more and more and even more! I wanted to see how Ove reacts in different situations and with different people. Even though I am aware of this book not having a climax suitable for a sequel, we could definitely have more prequels. These could be of Ove as a young man going around, doing his job, and a more vivid description of his love story (apart from the one mentioned in the fleeting parts of some chapters). Fredrick Backman, if you are listening, please consider this. If not, I’ll just reread this book once more in a few months.
The movie adaptation of “A Man Called Ove” follows the plot of the book closely, with some minor changes. The book is based in Sweden and so are most of the characters. There is a 2015 Swedish movie based on the same title, which I haven’t watched. Instead, I watched “A Man Called Otto”, the American spin-off which was released in February of this year. And, I am not entirely sure how to feel about it as a whole… but let’s discuss it!
What I liked…
- The Actors
Most of the actors seemed well-casted. Tom Hanks as Ove was especially a really good choice. His expressions really bring off the narration of events that run through Ove’s mind when he listens to people talk nonsense. His eyes speak much more throughout the film as they explore his past delving into his love story with Sonia (Sonja).
2. The Music
The music is simply beautiful. I found myself quickly reaching for my phone to Shazam the song that was playing. Since then, the two songs — ‘Until I Found You’ and ‘Til You’re Home’ are part of the daily morning jam. They are simply beautiful and really match the scenes in the movie.
3. The Climax
The movie had a bit of an improvised ending compared to the book, and when I watched it I initially didn’t like it that much. That was until I thought about it more deeply — it went well with the screenplay. I guess, after all, some artistic liberty is necessary, and in this case it feels like it was exercised at the right moment.
What I disliked…
- The Americanization of the Plot
I am not entirely sure how I feel about this. The plot was Americanised entirely. Ove became Otto. His Saab became Chevrolet and Rune’s Volvo became a Ford. So many other things — big and small — were changed to fit the American screenplay and cater to the American audience. For a while in the film, I felt the essence of it fleeting away. Ove’s Saab seemed like something of principle — unamendable. But, I guess some changes had to be made, and this was one that felt the most difficult to digest.
2. Rushed and Inorganic Scenes
A book like “A Man Called Ove” is difficult to adapt and portray on-screen. Maybe a web series would have made more sense but a 2-hour film seemed like an impossible deadline to convey all the emotions all the characters were feeling — especially Ove’s himself as most of the narration of events in the book happens in his mind. Portraying that mind conflict is so much more difficult on-screen in such a short amount of time.
The audience needs more time to connect with the character before they start thinking of the rest of the plot and, while the movie did good justice to the plot, some scenes felt rushed and inorganic. Though their purpose was to fit the adapted American screenplay, they simply didn’t — like the way Adrian and Misrad were combined into one character or how the build-up to saving Rune from being taken away was shown.
So those were my overall thoughts on the book and the movie. I clearly, enjoyed the novel more, and for good reasons, but the movie wasn’t completely bad either. It had its own plus and minuses. To Fedrick Backman, if you are listening — please consider writing a prequel to Ove . To Tom Hanks, try tarring as Ove in a dedicated web series to the novel. That would be just perfect, in my opinion.
Have you read ‘A Man Called Ove’ or watched any of the movies based on the novel? What did you have to say about it? Let’s hear you out in the comments!
- Aditya Darekar
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