Note: The writer of this review watched Another Round on a digital screener from home. Before making the decision to see it—or any other film—in a movie theater, please consider the health risks involved. Here’s an interview on the matter with scientific experts.
Movies about heavy drinkers tend to fall into one of two categories. Some of them are unabashed celebrations: drunken parties that seem to exist in a bubble of consequence-free inebriation, just like their (often collegiate) beer-chugging characters. On the far other end of the spectrum are the dramas of alcoholic despair, ruefully shaking their heads at the mess a drinking problem has made of some poor, perpetually blotto person’s life. Is there no middle ground on screen between letting the good times eternally roll and killing everyone’s buzz with the narrative equivalent of an intervention?
Another Round, from Danish director Thomas Vinterberg, comes closer than usual to finding one. It’s about a group of middle-aged men who give their comfortable, predictable lives a fresh jolt by committing together to a kind of social experiment: They’ll stay mildly drunk all day every day, even during work hours. If that sounds like a recipe for disaster and addiction, you’re getting ahead of the movie, which does eventually stumble out of the elation of a perpetual buzz and crash back to earth. Yet even then, Another Round doesn’t quite come across like 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 shitfaced that’s somehow neither a wallow in the gutter nor a fantasy of life without hangovers.
Looked at one way, this is a coming-of-age story, provided one thinks of a midlife crisis as a sort of reboot of adolescence. That’s how the film’s main characters treat their cure for the over-the-hill blues. Martin (Mads Mikkelsen), 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, a decidedly mild night of drinking and gabbing at the local saloon, 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 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? Agreeing to give it 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, it wakes all of them up! Martin, especially, seems reinvigorated, tapping back into his zest for teaching by keeping a buzz on all day long.
It’s easy to imagine a broadly comic version of this premise, one that hinged more on the subterfuge of the men’s secret devotion to the sauce. But Mikkelsen, who played a teacher with more serious problems in Vinterberg’s Oscar-nominated The Hunt, tethers the film to reality. The actor’s rather regal Scandinavian poise (that air of dignity and unflappability that made him such an inspired Hannibal Lecter) conceals a wide range: You can trace the whole arc of Another Round’s drama in the emotions he subtly telegraphs, from the autopilot remove of the early scenes to the sense of renewal that passes over his face like a drinker’s flush. (“You were all fired up and laid back at the same time,” Nikolaj tells his friend at one point—a fine description of the film at its best.) Likewise, it’s his melancholy that colors the bleaker passages, as when Martin faces how far he’s drifted from his wife (Maria Bonnevie).
Vinterberg, along with countryman Lars von Trier, was one of the architects of the Dogme 95 movement (he made the first film in the cycle, the almost unspeakably moving The Celebration), and though he’s long since abandoned the technical restrictions of that manifesto, an obsession with truth remains a cornerstone of his work. In Another Round, he never denies how much the bottle can fuck up your life if you go looking for salvation at the bottom of it. (That’s the harsh lesson learned by at least one of these besotted instructors, for whom a fun lark begins looking more like pure dependence.) At the same time, though, the film captures something no drug-awareness campaign ever acknowledges: not just how much damn fun drinking can be, but also how it can loosen the nerves, boost confidence, and help you open up emotionally.
Shooting in a handheld style that’s warm and a little ramshackle, like the vibe at a cherished watering hole, Vinterberg never loses sight of the discontent lurking underneath these friends’ experiment. One might wish the filmmaker leaned a little more into the chaos, and perhaps the fun, of days experienced only through drunk goggles. The inevitable comedown (.05 isn’t going to cut it forever in the sensation department) is a bummer for characters and viewers alike. But 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 rather obvious conclusion—something akin to Charles Baudelaire’s thought that drunkenness isn’t always a matter of what you’re sipping— at least Mikkelsen gives it the shape of mild epiphany and some texture beyond cliché. He also provides a final expression of ecstatic feeling, a talent from another lifetime, so intoxicating it could leave even the teetotalers in the audience a little tipsy.