Another Round: The Drinking Age, by David Bax
Outside of Denmark, Mads Mikkelsen so often plays villains (Doctor Strange, Hannibal) or somber, tortured men (Rogue One, Arctic) that it’s often a relief and a delight to see him in a movie from his native country where he’s allowed to be so many different, unexpected things, from a dorky accidental murderer (The Green Butchers) to a smoldering romantic hero (The Royal Affair). At the beginning of Thomas Vinterberg’s Another Round (an enlivening rebound after 2018’s blandly competent The Command), we get to see Mikkelsen be something he may have never been before… Dull. There’s something intriguing in its own right about watching Mikkelsen’s deep and idiosyncratic talents embody a high school teacher on apathetic cruise control. But, thankfully, that’s short-lived and he soon sparks in ways both delightful and troubling.
Along with a couple of other instructors, Mikkelsen’s Martin attends a small 40th birthday dinner for his coworker Nikolaj (Magnus Millang, hilarious). Conversation turns to the Norwegian psychiatrist Finn Skårderud, who has reportedly contended that human beings suffer from a natural deficiency of alcohol in the bloodstream and operate optimally with a maintained 0.05% BAC. Apparently looking for an excuse to break from their boring routines, the four men decide to undertake an experiment to test Skårderud’s assertion. Obviously, things go quickly out of control.
Another Round opens with a scene of teenagers (the legal age to consume drinks of less that 16.5% ABV in Denmark is sixteen) participating in a ritual called a “lake race,” in which teams must carry a case of beer around a lake and, long story short, that case has to be empty by the time they return to the starting point. Between that exciting and hilarious intro and the four teachers’ repeated discussions of great artists and historical figures who were known for drunkenness, Another Round flirts with romanticizing alcoholism. In reality, though, it’s more concerned with the fallacy of doing just that and the recognition that most alcoholics aren’t Ernest Hemingway or Winston Churchill. They’re just alcoholics.
Still, Vinterberg and co-screenwriter Tobias Lindholm aren’t blind to the fun of drinking and the funniness of looking at people who are drunk. Another Round has plenty of pratfalls and ridiculous delusions of grandeur for us to laugh at but beneath its high-concept bro comedy runs a bitter awareness of the sadness of these men’s lives and the further damage their undertaking is doing.
Eventually, we get a taste of the darker, more sinister Mikkelsen to which American audiences are accustomed when he further alienates himself from his family even as he pushes on down the path to ruination. The comedy drains out of things and these men becomes pathetic. It may have been funny when one of them fell into the sea trying to catch the cod that the grocery store was sold out of. But when the gym coach (Thomas Bo Larsen) stumbles into a staff meeting late and then faceplants in front of the entire faculty, there’s nothing left to laugh at.
But then, just when we think we’ve got Another Round‘s morality tale all figured out, it takes another, unexpected turn in its final scene (one of the best in any movie this year). Joyfulness and regret swirl together into a new solution on the way to a gloriously open-ended crescendo.