The latter part of 2020 feels like an opportune time for a movie about the destructive power of alcohol. The charity Alcohol Change found that a quarter of British people necked more booze during this year’s lockdown than they would’ve done if they weren’t confined to their homes with pubs shuttered. Even with those numbers, few would’ve been pulling off the level of drinking carried out by the characters of Danish director Thomas Vinterberg’s drunken drama Another Round.
Mads Mikkelsen, reteaming with Vinterberg after 2012’s The Hunt, portrays disillusioned history teacher Martin. He’s barely awake enough to deliver his syllabus and the parents of the kids he teaches have serious concerns about whether he’ll get them through exams. Meanwhile, his sex life with wife Anika (Maria Bonnevie) is non-existent. At a birthday dinner with fellow teachers, one floats Norwegian psychiatrist Finn Skårderud’s theory that humans exist with 0.05% less alcohol in their blood than they should have. The foursome agrees to test this, maintaining a higher blood-alcohol level to see if it improves their lives.
It’s a fun concept – essentially Jason Statham thriller Crank, with glasses of wine instead of headshots and public fornication. The tone is comedic and raucous for the most part, though Vinterberg is unafraid to allow serious drama to melt in. It’s a juggling act that works very well indeed thanks to Vinterberg’s script, co-written with regular collaborator Tobias Lindholm. There’s silliness aplenty, though the movie never loses sight of the fact that serious fallout is not far away. Pride comes before a fall, but vodka comes before a calamitous, life-changing stumble.
Mikkelsen is sensational as Martin, who immediately delights in the experiment, which sees him gaining mojo in the classroom – mostly by teaching about boozy blokes of history, it seems – and in the bedroom when the day is over. His satisfaction at his students’ approval is a little unsettling, his red eyes widening in excitement at being seen as an inspirational figure, despite the relative lack of substance in what he’s saying. He pushes for the experiment to go further and to push harder, with inevitable consequences.
Vinterberg focuses the story on disaffected middle-class men, but he’s clearly making a broader point about Danish society. The movie opens with students taking part in a drinking game race around a lake, in which vomiting is almost guaranteed, and the utterly joyous musical finale certainly doesn’t suggest that an enormous lesson has been learned. The lengthy and slightly rambling coda deals heavily in consequences but provides the truthful reminder that boozing isn’t going anywhere. Like anyone waking with a bad hangover and vowing never to drink again, it’s a hollow promise.
First and foremost, though, Another Round is just a delightful ride to be on. Vinterberg keeps the narrative moving as the intoxication grows, amping up the danger even as the comedy set pieces become more audacious. One scene in which the four friends, having been kicked out of a supermarket, attempt to catch their own cod from a harbour jetty is broader than anything else in the movie but is delivered beautifully by all involved. Just as in real life, drunkenness is very funny right up until it isn’t, and Vinterberg finds that balance with bona fide flair.
Dir: Thomas Vinterberg
Scr: Thomas Vinterberg, Tobias Lindholm
Prd: Kasper Dissing, Sisse Graum Jørgensen
DOP: Sturla Brandth Grøvlen
Music: Mikkel Maltha, Leslie Ming (music supervisors)
Run time: 117 minutes
Another Round is screening as part of the BFI London Film Festival and will be released into UK cinemas on 27th November.