For all the time one spends in school, there may be a unique likelihood that we develop a second obsession while studying a certain professional major. And apparently in Thomas Vinterberg’s latest look at comic bleakness, the wild Another Round, training to be an educator will eventually equate to building up a tolerance for alcohol. And then an addiction, as the substance plays a major role in challenging, surpassing, and destroying the limits of functional inebriation, extending the idea to factor for its clearness on the latter. It’s quite the dark comedy that is not even a trifle scared to go deep on a psychological level, escaping the other end with a newfound sense of forethought.
That process of trial and error begins with Martin (Mads Mikkelsen), a Danish history teacher with the life sucked out of him after years of stagnation. He’s lost a bond with his students, and his marriage with darling Anika (Maria Bonnevie) is rocky at best. Close friends and coworkers Tommy (Thomas Bo Larsen), Peter (Lars Ranthe), and Nikolaj (Magnus Millang) are not faring as well, either between respective family issues, or a floundering youth soccer team among other quandaries. One of the things continuing to solidify their sanity is a penchant for drinking. As Nikolaj faces his mid-life crisis, somewhat in sync with his three peers, a birthday outing quickly shifts into the seeds of a wild social experiment. Influenced by the very real findings of psychologist Finn Skårderud, this quartet establishes a pact to investigate the facts behind a rather raised, consistent blood alcohol level can improve quality of life, and eliminate the psych concern. With the professional opinion in mind, and a flourish of Hemingway’s methods, the four friends set forth, raising the stakes rather consistently, breathalyzers in hand to track their progress and determine just where is the line. They won’t find it before they find them, regrettably.
The steps by which this chicken and egg contest plays out are what will likely set this crazily fanciful descent into impulsive behavior not seen so poetically on-screen since Superbad, but never with a highly introspective edge that expands on character shortfalls from the offset. Much of that lies with Martin, the booze loosening his tongue and his mind to an existential degree. He gains unlocked confidence as a teacher and dad, once again open to risks not even discussed in common conversation. While at the same time, Tommy’s sports pursuits bear significant fruit. Small victories opposite a great enemy that’s otherwise invisible at first discovery. They can scientifically approach their low-level drinking habits all they wish, but Vinterberg makes no secret of the danger involved.
Call it a comedy with a real heartbeat on backup, fighting against swollen egos in need of a teardown. Another Round doesn’t promote the good that comes with a controlled drinking habit, so much as it does allow another chance at life on one’s own terms, with a spirit or two necessaries to facilitate such a significant reawakening. The humor written in serves to chronicle each participant’s evolution, just before the stakes get too real. Vinterberg, alongside co-writer Tobias Lindholm (A War), makes it all so uncomplicated, merging the comical with the painful, setting us up for locked demons to escape, whether we can relate to them. For Martin especially, the damage of slowly pushing everyone away is nearly impossible to perceive until the head has been blotted to a certain extreme.
That hidden hurt only fuels Mikkelsen’s a bit more. While Vinterberg has built his story around a loyal ensemble cast ready to play, and fight, and especially dance when the moment feels most right, it’s all Mads to carry the plot forward, from his Stand and Deliver-esque teacher guise to that of a Travolta-like disco shoe. The great result of an actor/director duo feeding off each other’s energy, timing, and intellect. Having worked together prior in 2013’s autobiographical epic The Hunt, here is a chance between the two of them to lighten up, and gladly broaden their creative strengths under a veil of shared self-awareness. Mikkelsen taps hard to let out the sorrow of a life once broken but looking to think and act differently, improvingly spontaneous. To say Mikkelsen hadn’t channeled his venting of frustration into one of the most complete performances this year, would be a serious denial of truth. Far from what this story seeks to be for the viewer.
Another Round would not be as effective if it weren’t honest at all about the plight Vinterberg is capturing on-screen. An experiment that goes off the rails and transforms into a cross-exam for self-betterment and how we cope with inadequacies, handled with a well-educated bend that’s also triumphantly joyous. That’s what ought to be the great reward he and Mikkelsen are setting up after so much unfastened trauma and resent being exposed. When we release what’s bothering us, then the joyful healing can start. It’s a known approach a director like Vinterberg can make suddenly full of life. A life worth immortalizing, with both flaws and resilience intact, in one great film I’m confident will be worth my time with each rhythmic step forward. (A-; 4/5 Horns Up!)
Another Round is currently available on-demand and via select digital retailers; Danish, with English subs; film not rated; 117 minutes.