'Another Round' Is a Sobering Look at Drinking Culture Directed by Thomas Vinterberg
Starring Mads Mikkelsen, Thomas Bo Larsen, Magnus Millang, Lars Ranthe
Published Dec 31, 2020We're in the middle of the holiday season, and surely many have celebrated with a drink or two (or several). With many people likely planning a pause from overindulgence, there's no better time to dive into Dainish filmmaker Thomas Vinterberg's latest, Another Round.
The film focuses on a group of middle-aged friends, all high school teachers, who are struggling to accept where they are in life and what lies ahead in their remaining years. Martin (played by Mads Mikkelsen, who previously starred in Vinterberg's 2012 film The Hunt) may be the most lost of them all. He's disconnected from his wife, distant from his sons, and has no passion for the history class he teaches.
When Martin and his three fellow teacher friends go out to celebrate a 40th birthday, they acknowledge Martin seems to lack joy and his classroom has become 'banal'. Shortly after, one of his friends Nikolaj (Magnus Millang) brings up Noreweigan psychiatrist Finn Skårderud's theory that people should maintain a constant blood alcohol concentration level of 0.05 as a means of inspiring creativity, enhancing social situations and opening the mind. With the group desperate for change, they decide to test out the theory — in the name of research, of course.
What follows plot-wise is fairly predictable. You don't need a crystal ball to see how four high school teachers drinking on the job could lead to bigger issues at work and at home. Initially, Martin and his friends see some benefits from the experiment. They are able to engage their students at school and see their relationships at home improve; however, as they continue to push the parameters of the theory, their lives begin to spin even further out of control.
There is a lot to like here, including a strong performance from Mikkelson and some poignant moments scattered throughout about aging and relationships. Protagonists of mid-life crisis films can come off as selfish and even whiny at times, making it hard to feel sympathy for the characters, but that's not the case here. Martin wants to change for those around him as much as he wants to change for himself. Mikkelson captures the vulnerability and desperation of a character who is fighting to hold on to the things dear to him, whether it be his wife, his sons, or his career.
However, the film lacks a definitive statement from Vinterberg about the nature of peoples' relationship with alcohol and how it is used by Martin and his friends as a means of accepting their realities. The drinking scenes vary between playful and destructive. The theory is defended by the group because Nobel Prize winners and leaders in their field drink regularly, but Vinterberg decides to include a montage of politicians from around the world embarrassing themselves while under the influence. Despite all this, the group of teachers struggle to find moments of calm unless they are intoxicated.
Alcohol can alleviate the pain of a mundane life and it can make celebrations even more euphoric, but it can also derail lives. Martin and his friends come to accept this, because humans themselves are imperfect (as one character mentions in the film). However, that isn't exactly a bold statement to make, and it's far too dismissive of the many who suffer from alcohol addiction. Vinterberg's characters always project that they're in control, and, even when things go off the rails, there's no acknowledgement that they may have a problem. The four friends' lives are already seemingly beyond repair, so trying to maintain a constant level of toxicity feels inconsequential.
By the end of the film, you're not certain whether the film is an indictment or celebration of drinking. Maybe Another Round is supposed to serve as a reflection of Danish drinking culture, specifically, but even if that's the case, it still struggles to address addiction, which feels strange for a movie about excessive alcohol consumption. All that being said, Mikkelson's compelling performance still makes the film worth raising your glass and giving it a watch. (Nordisk)