Another Round review: A booze-fueled tale of self-discovery

Another Round. Photo Courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films
Another Round. Photo Courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films /

Mads Mikkelsen leads a quarter of mild-mannered schoolteachers who embark on a quest to become perpetually drunk in Thomas Vinterberg’s Another Round, an affecting but often ambling tale of self-discovery.

With awards season drawing nearer and nearer and 2020 coming to a close, dozens of early foreign awards contenders are finally getting American releases. Among them is Thomas Vinterberg’s Another Round, which has already swept the European Film Awards and is looking like a serious contender for Best International Feature at the Academy Awards as well. Though it could stand to lose about half an hour of its runtime, Another Round is a sharp take on the mid-life crisis, shining in its examination of mundanity and self-doubt.

Starring Mads Mikkelsen (who, of course, most will know from villainous turns in projects like Casino Royale and Hannibal), Another Round follows a group of four middle-aged friends, all of whom teach at the same high school. After one of them reads about a study that suggests everyone was born with their BAC .05 percent too low, the four of them embark on a “scientific experiment” to be perpetually drunk, in the hopes of bettering their mundane day-to-day lives.

What’s so fascinating about Another Round is that, by design, this isn’t a particularly ambitious or outlandish story. It’s a portrait of a mid-life crisis — granted, taken to the extreme — but because this is a film that deals in average, unremarkable people, it’s not the place for grandiose bombastic performances. As such, Mikkelsen’s leading turn as Martin, the high school’s history teacher, is similarly understated. Though there is a scene where he has an all-out screaming match with his wife, Martin is for the most part a very tame, level-headed character. Once brilliant and on the course for a PhD, Martin is now a teacher so unengaging that all the parents of his students gathered in concern that he wasn’t doing a good enough job teaching their children.

Vinterberg and Lindholm’s script does quite a bit to build the picture of this everyman in Martin — and how his steady and shallow decline into mediocrity has strained his relationship with himself and with his wife — but Mikkelsen’s performance is the clincher that makes this character so believable. With Martin, he doesn’t always come off as the star player. Among the four friends, there are certainly more bombastic personalities. Nonetheless, we can’t take our eyes off him when he’s onscreen because it’s in Martin’s miniscule facial twitches and solemn silences that the film often finds its most poignant moments.

While Mikkelsen may be the lead, though, Another Round is very much an ensemble film that (for better or for worse) divvies up its time between not just Martin, but also his colleagues/friends: physical education coach Tommy (Thomas Bo Larsen), psychology teacher Nikolaj (Magnus Milang), and school choir director Peter (Lars Ranthe). After Martin, it’s Tommy and Nikolaj who shine the most, with Peter falling to the wayside. Nikolaj, with his beautiful wife and three perfect blonde-haired children, begins the experiment out of scientific curiosity and a desire to have fun. And unlike the others, he has more to lose from the ‘experiment’ than he has to gain, and eventually almost pays the price when things go off the rails.

Then there’s Tommy, who serves as the film’s secondary protagonist. Some of our favorite moments of the entire film are when he’s coaching a gaggle of small children in their soccer game, and encouraging along bespectacled social outcast Specs, who is perhaps the most adorable child actor in recent memory. Tommy, the most lighthearted and gung-ho of the group, ends up paying the heaviest price, while the others quit once they realize the day-drink has begun to consume their lives. Tommy is unable to, and falls further into despair, ultimately ending his own life.

It’s a harrowing development, certainly, but also one that exemplifies the complex position Another Round takes on its subject matter. Just like real life, Another Round doesn’t present a concrete stance on whether or not drinking is bad. It’s not trying to preach or act as a cautionary tale. It’s just a presentation of an everyday story, simultaneously portraying its protagonists’ drunken endeavors as rosaceous outings and spirit-crushing lows.

Yes, the drinking does end up leading to Tommy’s death, but even after he’s passed, the film ends with Martin and the others going right back to celebrating their students’ graduation by getting plastered. The film volleys back and forth. Martin is a better teacher when he’s been drinking, but then he gets too drunk and almost loses his job. At first, his wife think her husband has regained a passion for life and tells him that she’s “glad to have him back,” but when the drinking becomes too much, she leaves him. The film sways in and out of condemning or celebrating its protagonists’ alcoholism (which is what it becomes in the end), but instead of being frustrating or unfulfilling, it feels true to the nature of the story being told.

After a last half hour that does tend to drop off, the film comes out of nowhere and ends with its best and most memorable scene: Mikkelsen doing a full-on dance number, complete with acrobatics, choreography, and a surprising amount of litheness and grace for a man going on 56. It’s the scene that feels most removed from reality, but after nearly two-and-a-half hours of staying with these men through their quiet, messy, but nonetheless relatively unremarkable lives, the ending is so cathartic that it almost doesn’t feel real.

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Vinterberg has a strange and magical ability to replicate the sensation of drunkenness and sobriety. With its frequent slow motion montages set to classical music and clips of the choral arrangements being sung by the students, at times the sensation of viewing Another Round is almost dreamlike. But then the music fades, and you’ll cut right back to cold, hard reality, forced to sober up just as the characters do. The film does also have a slight twinge of humor, inserting title cards like a 1920s silent film whenever the characters take notes or send texts. It’s an offbeat but engaging little idiosyncrasy that stayed with us after the credits had rolled.

For how well it succeeds, though, it also has its drawbacks. The film on the whole tends to feel very aimless and meandering, which is a plot structure that is only worsened by the lengthy runtime. Not all of the plot strings work. Martin’s relationship with his wife is an interesting story thread that ends up fizzling out by the end, and Peter’s personal stakes in the “experiment” are practically nonexistent. He could’ve been cut from the film without much loss.

Still though, Another Round is a clever, dizzying exploration of the mid-life crisis, and one propped up by four equally strong performances from its leads. With its witty script, often dizzying cinematography, and a score that elevates both the grandiose and the mundane, Another Round glitters as a love letter to self-destruction, self-discovery, and friendship.

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Have you seen Another Round? What’s your favorite movie to watch while drunk? Sound off in the comments below.