Stick Around for ‘Another Round’

by Warren Cantrell on December 3, 2020

in Print Reviews,Reviews

[Rating: Rock Fist Way Up]

If ever there was a film that captured the zeitgeist or spoke to a particular moment, it has to be the one released 9 months into a global pandemic that supposes people aren’t drinking enough booze. That’s one thing Another Round (Danish: Druk) has going for it, aside from dazzling performances, thoughtful direction, nuanced social commentary, and surprising, sneaky humor buttressing its every move. Simple enough with its premise, yet layered with shades of commentary concerned with aging, intimacy, family, legacy, and addiction, the film walks a precarious tightrope that allows for it to take itself seriously and still have a hell of a lot of fun.

When the audience meets history teacher Martin (Mads Mikkelsen), he is going through what is essentially the first act of American Beauty or Fight Club. He’s a mildly successful middle-class, middle-aged drone whose personal and professional life has fallen squarely into a Talking Heads lyric, a-la, “This is not my beautiful house…This is not my beautiful wife.” During a guy’s night out with three of his teacher co-workers/friends, Martin listens attentively to Nikolaj (Magnus Millang), who talks about a recent article by a fellow psychologist who theorizes that humans operate at an alcohol deficiency.

Martin, who seems to be on an island despite regular contact with a wife, children, students, and fellow faculty, takes to the notion like a lifeline. He, Nikolaj, phys. ed. coach Tommy (Thomas Bo Larsen), and music teacher Peter (Lars Ranthe) agree to form a secret pact for (as they claim, anyway) purely scientific purposes. Since the theory purports that humans are only at their proper physical and psychological baseline while at 0.05 BAC, the four resolve to go through their weekdays just tipsy enough to remain at this “natural” level. The results are immediate, yet so too are the consequences, for despite their earnest claims that this is all just a good-natured experiment, this change, like any change for a person in a rut, becomes its own intoxicant.

Ostensibly about four gentleman having fun with a social experiment, the subtext about each of them experiencing their own unique mid-life crisis never falls out of focus. This is a story that’s been told several times before (two mentioned earlier, for example), yet the comedic tone of the movie, combined with the introspective nature of each man’s crisis, sets it apart within the broader genre. There’s never a question about whether these men really need the booze to function better, or if they’ve just found a new “something” to rescue their lives from rote monotony. In other words, although each man experiences some level of growth due to the drinking, unlike an underground fight club or career shift into fast food, both the audience and the characters understand that this new drinking strategy is little more than a mid-life speedbump.

Director Thomas Vinterberg co-wrote the script with Tobias Lindholm, and it’s a wonderful distillation of not just four different Danish guys, but also the nagging current that seems to run through all men of a particular age, regardless of one’s nationality. Another Round sidesteps the scapegoat version of this familiar tale by eschewing the Tyler Durden or Lester Burnham route of vilifying a bad guy or system and puts the blame squarely on these men. It wasn’t a soul-sucking job or shrew wife that drove these four teachers to despair, but rather the despair they themselves allowed to fester. This manifested into bland, uninspired, uninspiring creatures who drove kids to iPhones, students to despair, and wives to indifference.

The film allows each character to lament their unmoored life in its unique way, whether its Martin’s family not needing him, Nikolaj’s family needing him too much, or Tommy and Peter’s lack of family altogether. Mikkelsen, whose vibrant, juicy roles usually allow a surplus of space to operate within as a Bond villain or Hannibal Lecter or in a galaxy far, far away has never been more subdued or bottled up, and it’s a remarkable thing to behold. At the start of the film, Martin has a lifetime of regret swirling inside a stew of lost opportunities that only begins to bubble up once the drinking “research” begins, and it’s a credit to the actor that he never allows the performance to inflate or puff up.

The journey the audience goes on with these men as alcohol reinvigorates them before inevitably taking them over is hilarious, poignant, sad, and honest all at once. It is a true exploration of the concept of the “Single Individual” as coined by Kierkegaard, who comes up frequently throughout the picture. Indeed, these men are committing to the tangible human reality (they appear to function better when slightly drunk) rather than the abstract (society says drinking all day is wrong). While this works for a time with the booze, it’s only when they embrace what gives their life meaning and purpose (rather than what they suppose to be important) that they achieve real growth.

It’s a fun journey, full of both humor and purpose. Vinterberg is spectacular behind the camera, using his interior set-ups to speak to the isolation these men feel at times, only to open things up for all four before slowly constricting again. The use of music, largely diegetic, is also clever, as the absence of a score or any kind of musical guidance puts the audience inside the heads of Martin and the others during their most desperate, isolated moments. These men don’t know how to feel, and without music, neither does the audience, bringing them right into this world.

Anchored by a career-best performance by Mikkelsen and a thoughtful script that understands its characters and how they relate to the larger genre, Another Round is black comedy at its best. A story about the life rafts people board on ships not sinking, about walls thrown up on a prairie, about the ruts men fall into all on their own (and the mid-life crises similarly self-manufactured), the film is as entertaining as it is poignant. This one is worth sticking around for at last call.

“Obvious Child” is the debut novel of Warren Cantrell, a film and music critic based out of Seattle, Washington. Mr. Cantrell has covered the Sundance and Seattle International Film Festivals, and provides regular dispatches for Scene-Stealers and The Playlist. Warren holds a B.A. and M.A. in History, and his hobbies include bourbon drinking, novel writing, and full-contact kickboxing.

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