Director: Thomas Vinterberg
Stars: Mads Mikkelsen, Thomas Bo Larsen, Magnus Millang
The best scene in Thomas Vinterberg’s Another Round is the one you probably already know about, and the last one. It’s the one in which Mads Mikkelsen’s character Martin dances while drunk on a Danish marina, his students showering him with champagne as he busts moves that’d make Christopher Walken steady himself. Cinema has an illustrious history of documenting people dancing, and Mikkelsen’s expressive joie de vivre in this sequence is an instant-classic example. You can count Another Round as worth the ticket cost for this alone.
It comes – as intimated – at the crescendo of another storied offering from Vinterberg – the elusive brother-in-arms to Lars Von Trier, whose work is perhaps the more inscrutable. Speaking personally, I can never quite decide whether he’s being serious or not. That sense of shrugged-off responsibility is everywhere in Another Round.
Mikkelsen’s Martin is a high school history teacher in a rut. He’s lost his self-confidence, his students don’t respect him, and the problem may well start at home, where his marriage flounders on life-support. His friend and colleague Nikolaj (Magnus Millang) is in a similar position, and uses a tenuous theory to engender a change. The idea is that the human blood alcohol level is genetically weak, and requires topping up to 0.05%. By sustaining this level throughout the day, they might see improvements in all aspects of their lives. Martin, Nikolaj and their close-knit colleagues Tommy (Thomas Bo Larsen) and Peter (Lars Ranthe) start surreptitiously drinking on the job. For ‘science’.
Another Round has its precedents. The most immediate that comes to mind is John Cassavetes’ take-down of the male ego Husbands; perhaps the zenith of the inebriated mid-life crisis film. Like Cassavetes, Vinterberg documents long, howling excursions in which the aging pals over do it, get into scrapes, behave badly. Vinterberg’s penchant for hasty (but deliberate) hand-held shooting further bridges the gap between these two films.
But Another Round is weighted by its responsibility. Binge-drinking culture is rife across Europe and a serious societal ill. Behave too flippantly and you’re endorsing said problem. Wag your finger too harshly and you’ll be accused of berating your audience. Vinterberg finds himself in a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t situation. A little disappointingly, Another Round plays out with surefire predictability. Two acts of cheeky fun followed by the inevitable hangover, with story beats distinguishable long before they pay off.
If few of the film’s intended dramatic turns pay off as Vinterberg would have liked, there are plenty of simple pleasures to report. Mikkelsen – an actor of not insignificant talent and stature – is as good as he’s ever been. Magnetic. Watchable. Charming. After a stint working in Hollywood with flimsier, autopilot material (Doctor Strange anyone?), he seems positively alive at the prospect of a fleshed-out, rounded human to portray. He’s great.
His cohorts all conjure similar goodwill. A clunking comment on the ills of alcohol this may be, but it is also, at heart, about the bonds of friendship. The four-way bromance at the heart of Another Round is one of genuine heart. When one of their number inevitably tailspins, Vinterberg brings us an expertly calibrated two-hander. Here he keenly observes the difficulty men have reaching out to one another. It’s a scene loaded with what’s not said, and the hidden intentions of what is.
Vinterberg has a penchant for documenting herd behaviour (Festen, The Hunt, The Commune), and in this foursome he continues this line of inquiry. Martin and co. set up a number of rules around their drinking experiment. No drinking after 8pm, nothing at weekends, etc. It’s of little surprise that these barriers are quickly eroded, and oftentimes one member of this loose brotherhood will take a slip from another as permission to follow. Discipline and alcohol rarely go hand-in-hand.
Herds manifest in other places. At school, the teachers’ lounge is a haven governed by tacit agreement on certain behaviours. And then there are the classrooms, where minute dramas between groups of children unspool. In one of the film’s other standout scenes, music teacher Peter (under the influence, of course) uses sensory deprivation and a rousing speech to illicit a new level of connectivity within his choir.
When examining these dynamics, Another Round finds Vinterberg at ease and offering up some of his most effortlessly engaging work in some time. It’s a minor shame that, as a whole, the film has little to add to the conversation surrounding alcohol, save for the usual “it’s fun, but ow” observations. Of course prolonged drinking to enhance performance at work is unsustainable, ill-advised and doomed to failure. But there are gems along the way, quite a few really, and then to top it off you get Mads dancing at the end. He is visually intoxicating.
Please watch responsibly.