One can only imagine the parties held on the Croisette if Another Round had premiered in Cannes this May as originally intended. For a film so earnestly engaged with the glories and the pitfalls of alcohol, perhaps a boozy blowout would have been deemed inappropriate. On the other hand, Thomas Vinterberg’s drama avoids straightforward condemnation of the stuff, in favor of a complex and unpredictable depiction of the drinker’s life. Led by a career-best Mads Mikkelsen as diminished but resilient schoolteacher Martin, Another Round is one of the heartiest, best-written, and best-acted dramas of the year; had it played at Cannes, Mikkelsen may well have picked up his second Best Actor award following his 2012 win for his previous collaboration with Vinterberg, The Hunt. The plot is intriguing, the performances memorable, and the effect is, indeed, intoxicating.
Another Round plunges into Danish drinking culture from its first moments, showing high-schoolers drinking themselves to oblivion and celebrating the heck out of their young life. In contrast, their teachers are reserved, bland, and openly disillusioned by their monotonous lives. Martin teaches his history class with little enthusiasm, and has not interested his wife in some time. The wry script by Vinterberg and Tobias Lindholm packs some hilariously blunt details into the dialogue to illustrate the situation; when Martin asks his wife Anika “do you find me boring?” she pauses, thinks, and responds: “compared to what?” His most engaging relationship is with three fellow educators: sports coach Tommy (Thomas Bo Larsen), choir leader Peter (Lars Ranthe), and psychology teacher Nikolaj (Magnus Millang), all of whom are also quietly miserable.
One night, Nikolaj offhandedly mentions a theory championed by philosopher Finn Skårderud, which maintains that human beings have a blood alcohol level of 0.05%, which is too low to productively function. The logic is immediately intriguing. Think about it: are we not more lively, more creative, more energetic, more amicable, more alive when we’ve had a little to drink? Maybe a buzz is the trick to feeling like a fuller person. So think the lads, and they quickly adopt a routine of sneaking swigs and stashing bottles so they can maintain their BAC at the suitable levels to test Skårderud’s thesis.
This best-laid plan seems doomed to end in tears from the offset, but Another Round takes its time to clarify the tempting aspects of this way of life. Instantly, Martin’s classes become far more engaging, Tommy’s coaching becomes more involved, Peter’s methods become more productive, and Nikolaj’s interest in Skårderud’s ideas only grows deeper. Mikkelsen is magnetic during his history lessons, which are expertly drenched in dramatic irony; his topics rather conspicuously return to the subject of alcoholism, particularly the alcoholic tendencies of history’s greatest and most impactful figures. In one standout scene, Martin convincingly lays out the case that if the list of historically heavy drinkers includes Hemingway, Churchill, FDR, and Ulysses S. Grant, while historic teetotalers include Adolf Hitler, surely humanity should embrace the benefits of booze. The story follows a similar logic; as the men display more and more beneficial effects of their new habit, Another Round pushes the audience to question whether these people should be seen as crippled by addiction or improved by it.
One neat side note is included during a sequence in which an unusually confident Martin takes his wife and children canoeing: Martin’s BAC is 0.0%. Though he is not actually drinking in this moment, the moment infers that Martin’s new lifestyle has freed the personable side of him that just needed a jolt of confidence. So regardless of what some may call addiction or dependence, the positive effects on his life seem to outweigh the negatives. At the height of this best-case scenario, Another Round peeks over the fourth wall with an amusing montage of world leaders giving speeches while quite obviously smashed. Yeltsin, Clinton, Sarkozy, and more fumble their words and slap each other drunkenly on the back — the case is thoroughly made that perhaps a little swig now and then would make the world turn a little more smoothly.
The problem with the film’s central conceit, for this very reason, is that when the inevitable negative consequences start to become alarmingly present, the logic behind the downfall is not nearly as convincing. The backslide hinges on Tommy, who exhibits dangerously alcoholic tendencies, while the others take things too far once too often and begin to scare their loved ones. However, for a significant portion of its second half, the film takes this logic as read instead of justifying why each man feels the experiment has gone off the rails. Put simply, the case for mindful but constant drinking is made well and successfully disputes societal expectations and prejudices until the film pulls away from this perspective with a comparatively simplistic change of tone.
However, Another Round certainly finishes strong and clarifies many of its inconsistencies by throwing caution to the wind and embracing life, love, pain, failure, friendship, and booze, for the miraculous things they are. Mikkelsen shines in a part that highlights a warmth, physicality, and tenderness we rarely get to see from him. His splendid performance leads a script that handles difficult, intriguing topics with a commendable cocktail of levity, daring, and compassion. It is deeply satisfying to watch a film as intelligent as this, and while it might not be perfect, the mixture goes down smooth. Cheers to that.