Film Review: “Another Round” — Not Drowning but Waving
By Peg Aloi
The excellent cast and realistic tone make Another Round oddly accessible, despite its rather outrageous, antisocial premise.
Another Round, directed by Thomas Vinterberg. Streaming at the Brattle Theatre’s Virtual Screening Room.
If ever we needed a film that explores whether day drinking might be a viable way to reinvigorate our jobs, our marriages, or our general sense of purpose in life, well, we need it now. It comes via filmmaker Thomas Vinterberg, who delivers a darkly comic drama that explores a male’s midlife crisis sparked by the lure of lost youth. The director first captured international attention with his brash, moving Dogme 95 debut (and the first film in the collective’s movement) The Celebration (Festen). That story follows a man in his 30s who is deeply estranged from his family. While attending his father’s birthday gala he reveals a dark family secret to all of the guests. The film, though controversial because of its disturbing subject matter, became an instant art house sensation. Almost 20 years later, Vinterberg’s film The Hunt also made waves, featuring Mads Mikkelsen as a preschool teacher accused of molesting a young student, whose father (played by The Celebration’s Thomas Bo Larsen) is his best friend.
Larsen and Mikkelsen are united again for Another Round (the Danish title translates as “Drunk”). The narrative opens with yet another awkward celebration: four friends who all teach at the same secondary school are having dinner to mark the 40th birthday of Nikolaj (Magnus Millang), who is married with two young children. Rendered melancholy by alcohol, which he rarely consumes, history teacher Martin (Mikkelsen) finds himself tearily admitting to the others that he feels a bit sad and lost in his life. Tommy (Larsen) is a divorced soccer coach, and Peter (Lars Rathe) teaches music and directs the school choir. Trying to bolster Martin’s mood, the friends hit upon an idea initiated by Nikolag’s random fact finding. They decide they will try to keep their blood alcohol at a constant low level by drinking throughout the day, even while they are at work. Nikolag charts their progress by creating a sort of scholarly protocol as a framework for this experiment. He’s intrigued by this experiment’s research potential; he may even publish the results.
Despite the obvious risks in this plan to their jobs and their health, the project goes swimmingly for the first few days They smuggle booze to work in water bottles and travel mugs. Every one of them finds that his passion for teaching is reignited; they suddenly find that their students, who had sat in class with their heads in their phones, are becoming engaged and energized. Tommy triumphs when he mentors a shy young boy on the team and bolsters his confidence. When the foursome get together to compare notes, they’re thrilled by their initial success.
In addition to revitalizing their careers, the men note changes in their personal lives as well. Nikolaj eases the stress of parenting by coming up with inventive playtime sessions with his kids. Peter finds that his love of music is intensified. Martin’s wife Anika (Marie Bonnevie) notices, with some pleasure, that he is drinking wine and it is relaxing him. Things have been distant between them, and he convinces her to book a weekend camping trip with their two sons. Invigorated by nature and a change from their routine, Martin and Anika rekindle their sex life. But Anika ends up finding the encounter upsetting and murmurs that they waited too long.
Thinking more alcohol will generate even better results, the four push their experiment further. The quartet have raucous nights where they act like reckless teenagers on a wild bender: these scenes are both terrifying and hilarious. A rather obvious message resonates here about the problematic social and personal impact of alcohol consumption, which is pervasive in 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. There is also the potential for car accidents and the inevitable lapses in judgment, as well as irreparable physical damage in some cases. And yet, it’s only by risking everything they have that these men find the possibility to reclaim what’s most important to them.
The excellent cast and realistic tone make Another Round oddly accessible, despite its rather outrageous, antisocial premise. At the center of the film is Martin’s journey through his existential crisis. Mikkelsen’s performance is noteworthy because he creates such a sympathetic and recognizable character: this is a kind, hard-working, intelligent man with a full life who has lost his elemental vigor somewhere along the way. Martin ends up confronting demons he never knew were inside him, a battle for which he may well be unprepared. A stray comment about his early days studying dance leads Martin to a thrilling epiphany and catharsis. (Mikkelsen himself was a professional dancer before he turned to acting.) Another Round is a cautionary tale about the challenges of finding yourself again, after years of slowly and steadily ignoring, to the point of repressing, youthful hopes and dreams. In a world that seems to have ground to a halt, this film feels like an invitation to soar.
Peg Aloi is a former film critic for the Boston Phoenix and member of the Boston Society of Film Critics. She taught film studies in Boston for over a decade. She writes on film, TV, and culture for web publications like Vice, Polygon, Bustle, Mic, Orlando Weekly, Crooked Marquee, and Bloody Disgusting. Her blog “The Witching Hour” can be found at themediawitch.com.