There is nothing quite as bracing as seeing a Danish movie in which Mads Mikkelsen just plays a regular dude. In American movies and TV, Mads Mikkelsen is a certified weirdo. If he doesn’t play the most famous cannibal serial killer of all, he’s a figure of sci-fi authority or a Bond villain. In Thomas Vinterberg’s Another Round, he’s a run-of-the-mill, mildly schlubby middle-aged schoolteacher who has sort of lost interest in his own life. Mikkelsen’s relatively recent foray into supporting roles in huge blockbuster tentpoles makes the first few minutes of Another Round rather bizarre. How are these kids so nonchalant about being taught by this absolute weirdo? But it’s a testament both to Mikkelsen’s talent and his inherent weirdness that he’s never anything less than compelling in the role, one that finds itself at the centre of a somewhat-familiar tale of middle-aged ennui and suburban hypnotization.
Martin (Mikkelsen), Tommy (Thomas Bo Larsen), Peter (Lars Ranthe) and Nikolaj (Magnus Millang) are all teachers at a Danish high school where they, in true middle-aged teacher fashion, have more or less checked out. Martin has a wife who works night shifts in the medical field and two teenage sons. His home life is perfunctory at best, and he finds most pleasure hanging out with his buddies. Nikolaj, the youngest of the group at 40, is overwhelmed by his three young children, who eat up more or less all of his free time and have driven something of a wedge between him and his well-off wife. At a dinner party for Nikolaj’s 40th, the men begin discussing the theories of psychiatrist Finn Skårderud, who argues that humans are born with an alcohol volume that is 0.05% inferior to what should be necessary. Skårderud, in other words, argues that being a little drunk all the time greatly improves your life. The four friends decide to put the theory to test, vowing to keep their blood alcohol level at 0.05% throughout the work day.
It’s nearly impossible to think of another movie that presents drinking and drinking culture under so many different facets. Most films about drinking are about the perils and tragedy of alcoholism. They serve mainly as bottom-of-the-barrel cautionary tales, mainly because the impact of putting forth someone with a run-of-the-mill drinking problem is not as tantalizing as courting Oscars with a classic drunkard performance. On the other hand, movies about the inherent pleasures of drinking are few and far between — mainly, one assumes, because it’s seen as irresponsible to depict something potentially harmful and deadly as a good thing. (Besides, I struggle to think of any pro-drinking film whose ultimate message isn’t “well, actually, this sucks.”) What Another Round does is present alcohol intake as a behaviour of variables, as something that can take many different forms based on a series of factors, which greatly diminishes the film’s potential preachiness and facile conclusions.
You could see Another Round as a somewhat more philosophical take on the bro-down comedy, like The Hangover for PhD candidates, but the truth is that Vinterberg doesn’t really indulge in long setpieces or stuff the characters in particular boxes. (Case in point: Peter doesn’t even merit a character description in my summary above, and yet he comes across as a fully formed character — just not one that can be summed up in a few words.) Though the premise suggests, at its least dynamic, something like Olivier Assayas’s SEO-centric sex comedy Non-Fiction, Another Round is a remarkably organic and lively film. Instead of drawing four archetypes and sending them in four distinctly different directions, Vinterberg creates a nuanced portrayal of a particular vein of middle-aged male angst that feels both familiar and far-removed from the usual sad-sack affairs. For the characters in Another Round, life is not an absolute humourless slog and alcohol is not an immediate solution. Everything exists in shades of grey, which means that Another Round is perhaps not as instantly meme-able as its premise suggests, but infinitely more human.
It’s corny to say that Another Round is a film about reconnecting with our own humanity and understanding exactly what makes life worth living, but that’s exactly what it’s about. As far removed as you can possibly imagine from the grungy, explicitly ramshackle and raw Dogme 95 movement that Vinterberg co-founded, it’s a film that’s bright and full of life and realistic about the mess of the world that we live in. Let me put it this way: there is a scene in here where Mads Mikkelsen (playing, must I remind you, as normal a guy as exists on this godforsaken Earth) dances rapturously, with reckless abandon and love of life, that would be an unbearably corny iPhone commercial in any other context. Instead, it’s extremely moving — as is the rest of Another Round. ■
Another Round is available on VOD on Friday, Dec. 18. See more details about the film on its IMDB page, and watch the trailer below:
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