DIRECTED BY: Thomas Vinterberg
CAST: Mads Mikkelsen, Thomas Bo Larsen, Magnus Millang
Thomas Vinterberg’s latest film Another Round views the consumption of alcohol with a very truthful lens. Neither stigmatizing nor lauding the culture of drinking, the writer/director shows how too much of a good thing is never the answer, but also how cutting yourself off completely can have negative side effects for some. Mads Mikkelsen plays Martin, a high school teacher in Copenhagen, who just doesn’t seem to have any enthusiasm for life anymore. He’s been operating on autopilot for some time now and it’s starting to have an impact on the people around him. One night while out at dinner with three of his friends and co-workers, one of the men brings up psychiatrist Finn Skårderud’s theory that maintaining a blood alcohol content of 0.05% may increase your creativity and overall effectiveness in life. Inspired at just the right moment, Martin decides to have his first drink in years. Denmark is a country where drunkenness is very much part of the culture, especially for youths. We’re never told why Martin has given up alcohol entirely, but we assume it’s to overcorrect his vices from his teen years.
Pleased with the results and his newfound enthusiasm for his interests and the people in his life, Martin urges his friends to accompany him in testing Skårderud’s theory, and the four of them spend their days a little buzzed.
But of course, as with anything helpful and enjoyable, there’s some curiosity about the limit of the substance’s effectiveness. In the case of our characters, the question is raised of, “If a little alcohol makes me better at my job and thrive in my social life, then what would more alcohol do?” Of course, we can assume the answer, but Vinterberg doesn’t really concern himself with how the audience will absorb his narrative, rather the point behind it. Hidden underneath a hooky premise and a conventionally entertaining execution are heady themes about moderation and the deceitful gray area between helpful and harmful. (For those curious, the sweet spot is around 0.1% BAC.) Staying on one side of the line isn’t always an easy thing to do when the device that’s helping you is also enjoyable to partake in. Of course, there are people who should go nowhere near the stuff, and that topic is covered here as well.
The men see how as they consume more alcohol–even up to malignant levels–more truths become revealed by those around them and their personal lives become exfoliated, often toxically, but this enables them to ultimately better themselves because of it. Even diamonds need to be forged through fire before they can become beautiful.
Infused with Kierkegaardian philosophies and a well-informed knowledge of its subject matter, Another Round is both incisive and candid. However, it’s ability to separate the poignancy from the cynicism allows for the contrast to be useful rather than cacophonous. Where Vinterberg continuously finds success is in his ability to manage the movie’s several conflicting moods with ease.
Despite a healthy dose of levity, Another Round is still not a comedy. There are some very funny moments, but then some equally effective ones on the more serious side of things as well. This doesn’t feel like a premise that could be accomplished without a frat comedy sensibility, yet Vinterberg does so exceptionally well, and without over-stylizing his aesthetic. Regardless of some issues with the trajectory of the story, the director and co-writer (along with frequent collaborator Tobias Lindholm) keeps a steady hand on the tone of the film, neither presenting the content in a shallow way nor becoming preoccupied in making moral judgements, instead allowing for his characters to learn for themselves, and us with them. After all, this is a film about a social experiment. The plot markers are inherently predictable, sure, but getting to them is an intoxicating ride.
Mikkelsen himself is equally as intoxicating. The actor provides yet another one of his nuanced and sturdy performances where you feel like he’s the only one making decisions for his role, not the director. Of course that’s not the case, but Mikkelsen becomes so wrapped up in the emotion of his character, shedding an unexpected tear at the most precious and spontaneous moments, that we totally feel for Martin despite his odd, albeit convincing, arc. Some of the brief shoehorned drama from Martin’s personal life acts like a pebble in our shoe, detracting from the effectiveness of everything else going on in the plot and giving the impression that there are some gaps in this story, exposing the script’s failure to realize certain sentiments. Martin is a changed man because of his experiment, and his relationship with his wife and sons is definitely improving in return, but then one night of excessive drunkenness becomes overblown and suddenly he’s right back where he started.
This seems to oversimplify the idea of drinking–the one thing this film aims to avoid–and becomes the only instance where you feel even a slight tinge of the hackneyed importance of an Afterschool Special. I suppose this could also just be more commentary on the stigma surrounding alcohol rather than the acceptance of its benefits, but it only serves to take us out of the flow of the movie, if only for a moment.
And yet, there’s still a level of competence this film can’t ever let go of. It’s what the best films do. We recognize its flaws, but the rest of the way is so undeniably good that it doesn’t matter.
Infused with Kierkegaardian philosophies and a wellinformed knowledge of its subject matter, Another Round is both incisive and candid.
Another Round is also an advocate for male bonding, with a group of friends who are supportive of one another rather than overly cynical. All four main characters are worth following, and their journey with the experiment exudes a carefree joviality that’s incredibly infectious. However, we only see the rounded out effects of the experiment on Martin–not the others. In fact, there’s a frustrating lack of either growth or regression experienced by two of the other three characters. Martin’s best friend, Tommy, however, does get the cinematic treatment, but never in the intimate or submerged fashion that we get with our protagonist.
With a more definitive bias, Another Round would feel as controversial as it could have been. There’s one scene where one of the main characters advises his student to take a couple shots of alcohol prior to an exam. Another scene nearly draws a comparison between sobriety and Hitler. However, Vinterberg maintains a non-flippant voice, stubborn in his honesty. This is not only a champion for the benefits of alcohol, but a caveat of the limitations of those benefits.