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Non-Review Review: Another Round

Another Round marks another successful collaboration for director Thomas Vinterberg and actor Mads Mikkelsen.

Another Round is an exploration of alcoholism, filtered through the lens of midlife crisis. Prompted by a conversation over dinner, four teachers decide to embark on a pseudo-scientific study to test the hypothesis that the human body and mind function optimally with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.5%. This experiment naturally has a variety of unintended consequences for the middle aged men as they attempt to navigate the world of new possibilities that they create for themselves.

Drinking it all in…

Another Round works in large part because of the chemistry of its four leads: Mikkelsen, Thomas Bo Larsen, Lars Ranthe and Magnus Millang. It helps that Vinterberg is also careful to avoid tipping Another Round into stern-faced moralising about the dangers of alcohol. Although the movie’s trajectory is quite obvious from the moment that the four men seize on their plans, Another Round is refreshingly honest about the nature of the four men’s relationship to alcohol. The film understands the pull of alcohol to men in that situation.

Still, Another Round suffers slightly from feeling overly familiar. Its plot and character arcs are straightforward, and the film occasionally tips into outright melodrama in its final act. Still, there’s a lot to recommend Another Round, even if the taste isn’t quite as exotic as it might suggest.

Relighting his fire.

It’s interesting to contemplate the extent to which Another Round is a story about a midlife crisis that leads to addiction or a story of addiction sparked by a midlife crisis, as much as such distinctions are meaningful. The characters that populate the film are all men approaching middle age, teachers who have perhaps already lived through the best years of their lives. “Am I boring?” history teacher Martin asks his wife as they get ready for bed one evening, and it gets at an underlying insecurity to pushes Martin on to the inevitable downward spiral.

Out for dinner to mark Nikkolaj’s fortieth birthday, the group inevitably turn their conversation to the theories of Norwegian author Finn Skårderud. Skårderud proposed that a constantly maintained blood alcohol concentration of 0.5% allows an individual to be more relaxed and creative. The four friends decide to test that hypothesis, using themselves as guinea pigs in an absurd (and secret) experiment to prove that they can be their best selves while remaining constantly tipsy.

Alco-pops.

Of course, it is immediately obvious that the four men are just rationalising any excuse to add a little excitement to their lives, that the attempt to prove that alcohol might lead to “increased social and professional performance” is just a justification for the edge that the alcohol takes off their mundane existence and the buzz that it adds to their day-to-day lives. It is also very clear from the outset that this experiment is unlikely to lead anywhere pleasant, even before the group demonstrate difficulties maintaining their levels at the targeted percentage.

Another Round is quite pointed. After all, Mikkelsen has garnered a lot of attention internationally as a spokesperson for Carlsberg, which makes his casting very deliberate. There are moments in the film, including one late party involving the four men set to Cissy Strut, that Vinterberg frames as something close to a beer commercial. Another Round makes it very clear from the outset that these adventures will not have happy endings. (“Russia was built by people who drink vodka and drive,” the group assure Martin at one point, making a later cut to Boris Yeltsin particularly sharp.)

Glass act.

Another Round avoids being too heavyhanded or moralising in its treatment of alcoholism by allowing it capture the appeal of drinking. The film understands the allure of alcohol, why so many people are drawn to the substance even before addiction and dependence kicks in. Under the influence of alcohol, Martin, Nikkolaj, Tommy and Peter are less inhibited and more liberated. They are spontaneous, impulsive, energised and dynamic. They seem passionate about everything. Even the people around them seem to be drawn in by that energy.

Tying back to that anxiety about middle age, Vinterberg repeatedly frames this as something of a regression – a way of reclaiming lost youth. Martin, Nikkolaj, Tommy and Peter behave like children; they are more playful, they are more engaged with the children in their care, they are reckless and irresponsible. Indeed, Vinterberg underscores this point by contrasting an early sequence where Nikkolaj’s son wets the bed with a later sequence in which Nikkolaj does the same.

Teach’s own.

That said, Another Round does suffer from being overly predictable. It is possible to chart most of the film’s course from the opening few minutes, from the highs of the early experiment to the lows of the inevitable slump into addiction and collapse. There are few surprises in Another Round, including the film’s somewhat ambiguous ending which seems almost inevitable given both the subject matter and the movie’s efforts to walk a fine line between glamourising alcohol consumption and seeming overly moralistic in its handling of the subject matter.

Even particular scenes feel like they come neatly packaged for a movie like this. Another Round inevitably features one of those elaborate and unlikely dance sequences in an otherwise quite grounded independent film, the visual shorthand for “quirky” that has arguably become standard since the release of Little Miss Sunshine. To be fair, the dance sequence within Another Round is a particularly impressive example of the trope, and the closing shot is practically perfect, but it still feels like something including in this sort of movie as standard.

Sitting it out.

Another Round is not as impressive a collaboration as The Hunt, but it’s still a well-made (if overly conventional) social drama featuring a sturdy script, good direction and a set of strong performances.

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