Throughout the history of cinema, various displays of alcohol use have their prevalence. But seemingly they all really only fall into about two categories: Brazen celebrations of drunken parties and consequence-free intoxication; and alcoholic despair, seeing a person who’s made a mess of their life (and usually looking at them with a rueful shaking of the head). A middle ground between the two doesn’t seemed to exist, in regards to its portrayals on-screen; nothing in-between the good times and a cinematic intervention. With Another Round, director Thomas Vinterberg comes rather close to finding it.
The film centers on a group of middle-age men who give their comfortable, predictable lives a fresh jolt by committing together to a social experiment of sorts: They’ll stay mildly drunk 24/7, even during work hours. If that sounds like a recipe for disaster and addiction, you’re ahead of the game, but being grounded in some sense of reality is in the film’s cards. Yet Another Round still isn’t a cautionary tale, and that’s because Vinterberg takes a refreshingly, well, sober stance on the entwined pleasures and pitfalls of drinking. He’s made the rare movie about getting sauced that’s somehow neither a wallow in the gutter nor a fantasy of life without hangovers; where joyousness and melancholy ride hand-in-hand, while friends drink not to lose themselves, but find themselves.
From one angle, this can be seen as a coming-of-age story, provided one views a midlife crisis as a resurgence of adolescence. All teachers at the same suburban high school, Martin (Mads Mikkelsen), Nikolaj (Mangus Millang), Peter (Lars Ranthe), and Tommy (Thomas Bo Larsen) are looking for a cure for their over-the-hill blues. What they all have in common is their shared, nagging, half-acknowledged feeling that they’ve fallen into a collective rut — that their personal and professional lives have grown as stale as a warm, overnight beer. At his relaxed fortieth birthday party, it’s Nikolaj who proposes to his friends the precise opposite of a detox. He’s been inspired by the work of Finn Skårderud, a Norwegian psychotherapist who suggested the theory that humans are born with a natural alcohol shortage — that we are all .05% (essentially, a couple glasses of wine) shorter than our ideal blood alcohol level. So would it then, maybe, improve our lives if we reached and then maintained that level at all times of the day? Agreeing to all give it a try, the four men begin spiking their morning coffee, then sneaking periodic sips of the bottle they smuggle into school each day. And what do you know, it does quite wake them all up! Martin, especially, seems reinvigorated, tapping back into his passion for teaching by keeping a buzz all day long.
It’s extremely easy to imagine a broadly comic version of this premise, one that hinged more on the deceit of the men’s secret devotion to the sauce; one possibly even done (abysmally) as a Netflix-Happy Madison production. But Mikkelsen grounds the film in rich notes, as a man stumbling into his uncertain future even as he yearns for his more idyllic past. The actor’s regal Scandinavian poise conceals a wide range: You can trace the whole arc of Another Round‘s drama in the emotions he subtly telegraphs, from the coasting-through-it remove of the early scenes to the sense of revival that passes over his face like a drinker’s flush. (Nikolaj describes it best: “You were all fired up and laid back at the same time.”) Likewise, it’s Mikkelsen’s melancholy that colors the bleaker passages, as when Martin faces how far he’s drifted from his wife (Maria Bonnevie).
Throughout Another Round, Vinterberg never denies how much the bottle can mess up your life if you go looking for salvation at the bottom of it. (It’s a harsh lesson that at least one member of the group runs into.) At the same time, though, the film admirably captures something no drug-awareness campaign ever acknowledges: not just how much fun (some) drinking can be, but also how it can loosen the nerves, boost confidence, and help you open up emotionally. Shooting with a warm handheld camera, Vinterberg never loses sight of the discontent lurking underneath these friends’ experiment. The inevitable comedown (.05% isn’t going to be enough for too long) finds reality in the hangovers of middle life. Yet Another Round never entirely flips into a stealth lecture because its philosophy isn’t scolding so much as pragmatic: a plea for being immoderate in moderation. And if the film ultimately offers a possibly obvious (and sort of rushed) conclusion, it’s Mikkelsen who helps Vinterberg shape it as a textured epiphany rather than a rote cliché. He also provides a final expression of ecstatic feeling: Without giving too much away, I’ll just note that Mikkelsen’s own background experience as a gymnast and dancer is put to inventive use in a performance whose emotional subtlety is matched by its eruptive physicality. Another Round itself often moves and swings like a piece of music: Staccato in its rhythms and symphonic in structure, it’s filled with Domenico Scarlatti and Franz Schubert, bar tunes and patriotic songs, and climaxes with a joyful blast of Danish R&B. It sings, and it sparkles. Practically a tonal triumph from Thomas Vinterberg, Another Round takes its social constructs and midlife crises and delivers a tragicomedy that balances tipsiness with a rather remarkable lucidity.
Another Round is available on VOD