Thomas Vinterberg previously directed Mads Mikkelsen to win the best actor award at Cannes, starring in The Hunt, a drama about a man wrongly accused of sexually abusing a child. Eight years later, they’ve reunited for Another Round, a well-observed and darkly funny midlife crisis movie about four Danish schoolteachers who embark on a self-destructive social experiment.
DIRECTOR: Thomas Vinterberg
Mads Mikkelsen stars in this well-observed and darkly comedic drama about the highs and lows of drinking culture in Denmark.
Mikkelsen gives a subtly stunning performance as Martin, a history teacher whose classes are so dull that his students stage an intervention. His wife’s job means they barely see each other at home, and during one of their all-too-brief conversations, he asks if he’s become boring in middle age. Her answer is not reassuring. It soon becomes clear that Martin has spent years wallowing in a deep, unacknowledged depression, but like many straight men of a certain age, he doesn’t have the social tools to reach out for help. His eventual solution is a common one: he turns to drink. But his route into alcohol abuse is deceptively quirky, as Vinterberg skillfully weaves a journey between exuberant buddy comedy and deeply stressful social tension.
Things come to a head at a birthday party with Martin and three longtime friends, played by Thomas Bo Larsen, Lars Ranthe, and Magnus Millang. All four are middle-aged white guys with comfortable lives—two single, two married with kids. Over dinner, one of them mentions a rather dubious theory from Norwegian psychologist Finn Skårderud: Most people suffer from an alcohol deficit, and would benefit from running a 0.5 BAC (blood alcohol concentration) at all times.
This gives Martin a chance to hint at how miserable he is, suggesting that maybe he should give Skårderud’s theory a try. But instead of pointing out that alcohol won’t make him happy, Martin’s friends are enthusiastically supportive. Sketching the outline for an amateur academic study, they decide to start day-drinking at work, using breathalizers to maintain a 0.5 BAC and see whether it improves their social and professional performance.
It doesn’t take a genius to know this experiment is a bad idea, but Another Round is far from being a morality play. Co-written by Vinterberg and Tobias Lindholm (The Hunt, Borgen), it offers a nuanced look at drinking culture in Denmark. The film opens with a joyful montage of students playing a drinking game in the sun, associating public drunkenness with youthful freedom and friendship. And in some ways, booze really does help Martin relax and open up.
Rather than being a standard tale of addiction, with characters hitting rock bottom and then going cold turkey, the film examines the wider ecosystem that encourages people to use alcohol as a crutch. It’s a culture where binge-drinking is a casual social activity, and where men aren’t comfortable with examining or talking about their mental health. You can tell that the four main characters truly want to support each other, but their “academic experiment” is just an intellectual excuse to get drunk and spend more time together, overlapping with the socially acceptable drinking rituals we already know. Alcohol isn’t the solution to their problems, but it isn’t the cause either.
Mikkelsen has already cemented his place as one of our greatest living actors, with a career spanning popcorn blockbusters, acclaimed indie dramas, and his cult-popular turn in Hannibal. Famed for his hypnotically effective microexpressions and casual physicality, he’s the rare kind of talent who gives an excellent performance in anything, including (often including) solidly mediocre movies. It’s a real joy to see him play a lead role in a film that fully lives up to his capacity.