Alcohol and entertainment go hand-in-hand. The magic elixir can either be a gateway towards self-destruction and tragedy, or the stimulus for rowdiness and crazy comedy. Movies about drinking don't usually need a strong plotline, great actors or beautiful sets - they just need a really epic party scene (featuring hundreds of teenagers or college students, and sometimes adults), where someone's house gets trashed and a dance-off happens. Thomas Vinterberg ('The Hunt', 'Kursk') incorporates these elements (and more) into his latest film, 'Another Round'.
Martin (Mads Mikkelsen, 'Arctic', 'Rogue One: A Star Wars Story'), Nikolaj (Magnus Millang), Peter (Lars Ranthe), and Tommy (Thomas Bo Larsen) all teach at the same suburban high school. What they really have in common, though, is the 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 beer left open on the counter overnight.
It's at his 40th birthday party that Nikolaj proposes the precise opposite of a detox. He's been inspired by the writings of Finn Skårderud, a Norwegian psychotherapist who floated the theory that humans are born with a natural alcohol deficiency - that we naturally operate .05 percent (or a couple of glasses of wine) short of our ideal blood alcohol level. So how would it improve our lives if we reached and then maintained that level at all times?
Rendered melancholy by alcohol, which he rarely consumes, history teacher Martin finds himself tearily admitting to the others that he feels a bit sad and lost in his life. Tommy is a divorced soccer coach, and Peter teaches music and directs the school choir. Agreeing to give Nikolaj's experiment a try, the four men begin spiking their morning coffee, then sneaking periodic nips from the pints of alcohol they smuggle into the school each day. And what do you know? Not unlike Penny Marshall's 'Awakenings' (but with booze), every one of them finds that his passion for teaching is reignited.
The men suddenly find that their students, who had sat in class with their heads in their phones, are becoming engaged and energised. Tommy triumphs when he mentors a shy young boy on the team and bolsters his confidence. Martin, especially, seems reinvigorated, tapping back into his zest for teaching by keeping a buzz on all day long. When the foursome reunites to compare notes, they're thrilled by their initial success.
Thinking more alcohol will generate even better results, the four push their experiment further. The quartet has raucous nights where they act like reckless teenagers on a wild bender; these scenes are both terrifying and hilarious.
Fun fact: before public sanitation in Europe, when most of the water was not safe to drink, people maintained their fluid level by mostly drinking diluted beer and wine. So, the premise of this film is actually the way most people lived for centuries.
A rather obvious message resonates here about the problematic social and personal impact of alcohol consumption, which is pervasive in modern Western culture. In small amounts, alcohol can be a social lubricant, an intellectual stimulant, even a medicinal tonic. But in some individuals, when consumed in large amounts, it's a depressant. Lapses in judgment are inevitable, as well as, in some cases, irreparable damage. And yet, it's only by risking everything they have that these men find the possibility to reclaim what's most important to them.
As the central character of Martin, Mikkelsen exudes a quiet instability. He is funny, pathetic, intelligent, lost, and everything in between. Martin is a history teacher who has lost his motivation to inspire his students. At home, he has become detached from his wife Anika (Maria Bonnevie) and kids. When the idea of drinking comes up, Martin is the first to adopt it.
'Another Round' touches on the ever-changing views of masculinity during a mid-life crisis, working a dead-end job versus living in the moment, and the beauty (and stupidity) of male companionship. These are not new concepts, but Vinterberg crafts his narrative with a fresh perspective, opting for a tragicomedy that doesn't lean too far one way or the other. The bottle can fuck up your life if you go looking for salvation at the bottom of it, but it's also pretty fun. 'Another Round' juggles this message expertly. It shows our complicated relationship with booze - it isn't inherently good or bad, it just is. It's refreshing to see another film, like the Ross Brothers' 'Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets', that explores addiction without casting judgement or heaving massive rock-bottom misery porn moments at the audience, a la 'Leaving Las Vegas' and 'Requiem for a Dream'.
Fun fact: before public sanitation in Europe, when most of the water was not safe to drink, people maintained their fluid level by mostly drinking dilute beer and wine. So, the premise of this film is actually the way most people lived for centuries.
When Martin and the others slur their words or stumble around a room, it isn't played for laughs. The comedy comes in how they pretend to treat their drinking as though it were some scientific study. The only times the realism is broken is when Vinterberg flashes a title card indicating the groups' BAC level. At first, seeing "0.04%" or "0.05%" comes off as funny, but the chuckles disappear as we watch the numbers rapidly escalate.
Besides the drinking themes, the film is also a box of condensed Danish culture. Everything in the movie is extremely Danish. The pop music. The classical music and choir songs. The high school graduates with red band hats celebrating their freedom driving from home to home in the back of a decorated truck. The fancy Copenhagen gourmet restaurants. The bodegas (pubs) with draft beer. The quotes from Soren Kirkegaard. The different types of homes and classical architecture and design. The lakes and the ocean. It's a great tourism ad for Danish culture.
It's impossible to talk about this movie without mentioning the tragedy behind it, with Thomas Vinterberg's daughter passing away during filming. 'Another Round' is dedicated to her and it adds a layer of melancholy to the film. It doesn't make the viewing experience depressing, though - in fact, it adds to the film's life-affirming message.
The cathartic release at the end of 'Another Round' is just perfect. Stray comments about Martin's early days studying dance teases the audience throughout - film buffs and Danes know that Mads can cut a rug. His eventual dance number is one of my favourite moments in any film from 2020. Mikkelsen flips, spins and contorts his body to a song by the Danish pop band Scarlet Pleasure, the lyrics reminding the audience: "What a life, what a beautiful, beautiful ride".
'Another Round' reminds us not to ignore our youthful dreams and encourages us to soar. A supremely charming effort by Thomas Vinterberg, I weep for the inevitable American remake that reunites the cast of 'Old School' or 'Tag' or something.