Boys will be boys and girls will be girls, rowdy and carousing. Men will be men and women will be women, dissatisfied with their adulthood and increasingly disconnected with their spouses. But when the going gets tough, it’s men who indulge themselves by moping with their bros in commiseration over their various miseries. In Thomas Vinterberg’s new film Another Round, camaraderie starts out as emotional support before dissolving into male foolishness cleverly disguised as scientific study: A drinking contest where nobody competes and everybody wins until they lose.
Martin (Mads Mikkelsen), a teacher in Copenhagen, bobs lazily through his professional and personal lives: When he’s at school he’s indifferent and when he’s at home he’s practically alone. His wife, Anika (Maria Bonnevie), works late shifts and typically leaves for her job not long after he returns from his. His sons, Kasper (Silas Cornelius Van) and Jonas (Magnus Sjørup), act like he’s not there even when he is, though this dynamic is at least partly explained by youth: Teenage boys, after all, are basically bipedal turtles with smartphones. Martin’s closest connections are with his friends and fellow teachers, Tommy (Thomas Bo Larsen), Nikolaj (Magnus Millang) and Peter (Lars Ranthe), who like many dudes of a certain age share his glum sentiments.
To cure their malaise, Nikolaj proposes putting Norwegian psychiatrist Finn Skårderud’s blood alcohol content theory to the test: Skårderud maintains that hovering at a cool 0.05% BAC helps people stay relaxed and loose, thus increasing their faculty for living to the fullest. What sounds like an excuse among pals to get soused together pays off as their spirits and humors improve. Martin rediscovers his long-dormant confidence, the swagger that once held Peter and Nikolaj in awe, and his teaching rises to rock star status as his relationship with his family ameliorates. Drinking does the soul good, so the gang reasons that more drinking means more good, which of course is folly. They’re a well-read bunch, but approximately none of them has seen The Legend of Drunken Master and learned from Jackie Chan the importance of knowing one’s limits.
Another Round functions as a spiritual sequel to The Commune, Vinterberg’s 2016 drama about a married couple dipping their toes into a co-op lifestyle and finding discontent amongst betrayals of the heart. Martin and the guys place too much value on the alcohol itself as the answer for their existential woes without fully accepting that habitual drinking is a bottomless trapdoor. Apparently they also haven’t seen the Simpsons episode “Homer vs. the Eighteenth Amendment,” either, or else they’d recognize alcohol as both the cause of and solution to all of life’s problems: Try submerging feelings of failure and mediocrity in booze as much as you like, but they’ll eventually figure out how to swim. The magical whatsit sought by characters in this film, and in The Commune, only distracts them from their real problems instead of fixing them, which of course makes those problems infinitely worse.
Despite Another Round’s downward spirals, Vinterberg, working with frequent screenwriting partner Tobias Lindholm, steers clear of gloom. For all the tragedies and transgressions that unfold throughout, the film is light on its feet and surprisingly joyful. Vinterberg and Lindholm don’t argue so much that drinking is a sin, but rather that drinking for the wrong reasons is sinful: Instead of for company and pleasure, Martin, Tommy, Peter, and Nikolaj drink for the naughty thrill of sneaking alcohol breaks into their schedules at school, and also for the validation of actually doing well at their jobs. There’s substance to the substance use. But the substance isn’t necessarily good: It’s just there, for better and for worse. All’s fun and games until someone pisses the bed and someone else stumbles into work plastered.
But Another Round doesn’t judge. It observes. Vinterberg has spent his career measuring the circumference of human behavior, whether in The Commune, Submarino, or The Hunt, his last collaboration with Mikkelsen, where the great Dane played a kindly man falsely accused of unspeakable crimes. Martin’s low-key alcoholism isn’t unspeakable, just unspoken of, and all juvenile self-satisfaction aside he’s a decent man brought low only by age’s inexorable advance. The film sees the pact he makes with Tommy, Peter, and Nikolaj as a reaction to personal grievance and not as a mark of poor character, but necessarily asks Mikkelsen to act out in poor ways: Public debauchery at worst, private deception at best. (Depending on one’s perspective, the two may change positions.)
As one of the day’s preeminent screen actors, Mikkelsen finds the sweet spot between regret and rejoicing, where his revelries are honest and true while still serving as covers for deeper misgivings and emotional rifts. Sorrow hangs around the edges of his eyes as surely as bliss spreads across his face with each occasion for drinking. That balancing act culminates in an explosive burst of anger and ultimately mourning. Good times are had, and good times always end. What Another Round demonstrates right up to its ecstatic final moments, where Mikkelsen’s sudden and dazzling acrobatics remind the audience that before he was an actor he was a dancer and gymnast, is that good times are all part of our life cycle: They come and go, then come back again, and that’s better than living in the good times all the time. Without a pause we lose perspective on all else life has to offer, especially self-reflection.
Here, merriment and melancholy go hand in hand, partners in life’s dance just as a stiff drink is an accompaniment to life’s pleasures. The combination proves as intoxicating as the fancy-pants cocktails the boys whip up together—if not more so.
Director: Thomas Vinterberg
Writer: Thomas Vinterberg, Tobias Lindholm
Starring: Mads Mikkelsen, Maria Bonnevie, Thomas Bo Larsen, Magnus Millang, Lars Ranthe
Release Date: December 4, 2020 (theaters); December 18, 2020 (VOD)
Bostonian culture journalist Andy Crump covers the movies, beer, music, and being a dad for way too many outlets, perhaps even yours. He has contributed to Paste since 2013. You can follow him on Twitter and find his collected work at his personal blog. He’s composed of roughly 65% craft beer.