▶︎ Another Round screens in the BFI London Film Festival in different cities between 14 and 18 October 2020, and is released in UK cinemas on 20 November.
Breezy and boozy, joyful and melancholic, occasionally wild and often wise, Thomas Vinterberg’s Another Round is a heady cocktail swiftly downed, with a late kick like a particularly euphoric mule. A drinking movie that’s neither a finger-wagging cautionary tale nor a Will Ferrell-esque manchild comedy, that presumes to caution about using alcohol as a crutch while also daring to suggest that sometimes it’s a very useful crutch indeed – Another Round is, of course, when you get right down to it, not really about drinking at all. Instead, as loosely signalled by the opening Kierkegaard quote about youth, love and dreams, it’s about male friendship, midlife crisis and the cruelty of a modern condition by which we spend our first couple of sentient decades figuring out who we want to be, and the rest of our lives not living up to that vision.
Martin (a typically excellent Mads Mikkelsen) is a history teacher, apathetically drifting away from his students, his wife Trine (Marie Bonnevie) and the charismatic, ambitious charmer he once was. One night out, his psych teacher friend Nikolaj (Magnus Millang) suggests an experiment: along with PE teacher Tommy (Thomas Bo Larsen) and music instructor Peter (Lars Ranthe – making up an ensemble that jointly won Best Actor at the San Sebastian Film Festival), they test out the theory, loosely based on an idea propounded by psychotherapist Finn Skarderud, that humans are born with too low a blood-alcohol percentage. If they day-drink controlled amounts, will it make them happier, better adjusted, more capable?
Initially it does, as observed by the fractional lightening and brightening of Sturla Brandth Grøvlen’s reliably superb, faintly sardonic, coolly Scandinavian photography. Martin reconnects with his class and with Trine; Tommy coaches his kids’ football team to unprecedented success. But soon darker notes sound as they up their ‘dosage’, and the secrets kept from spouses and school authorities alike take their toll. Also, it’s difficult to know when you’ve crossed the line from sociological study into self-justifying alcoholism when you’re drunk all the time.
But this is not some schematic tale of giddy hubris brought low. Co-written by Vinterberg and Tobias Lindholm, the film acquires more nuance as the foursome respond to the experiment in divergent ways, mining gently heartbroken themes of male fragility and insecurity while also depicting the central friendships with a rueful warmth that is only rarely applied to men, especially at this age. It builds to a finale in which Martin finally puts his early years of jazz ballet to unexpectedly joyous use, and suggests that drinking in later life is a bit like dancing at a funeral: an act of messy but life-affirming bravery in the face of beckoning nihilism.
Some viewers may long for a more outright condemnatory or celebratory narrative, but if Another Round opens with Kierkegaard, ultimately it ends up espousing the beautiful ambivalence of a different philosopher – perhaps the greatest prophet of modern midlife masculine malaise, Homer Simpson: “Here’s to alcohol, the cause of – and solution to – all life’s problems.” Please consume irresponsibly.