Movie review: A big ‘Skol’ goes out to the drinking buddies in ‘Another Round’
Linguistic scholars will not be happy with the English translation for the title of this Danish film. When it was released in Denmark, it was called “Druk,” a Danish term for binge drinking. American audiences are getting it as “Another Round,” a happier-sounding, more celebratory version of the term. There are funny moments, but this is also a dark drama.
Suggesting that a relationship with alcohol is an everyday kind of thing in Denmark, and that it starts early on, the film opens with high school seniors taking part in beer-drinking and foot race competitions. Teachers who have heard about these gatherings of “drunk students” meet to discuss instituting a zero-alcohol policy.
Martin (Mads Mikkelsen), a history teacher, is having trouble holding the attention of his students. He’s bored with his job, they pick up on that, and are, in turn, bored by him. At home, worried about his own dreary thoughts, he asks his wife if he’s becoming a boring person. She evades a direct answer.
But life takes an unexpected turn for him. At a dinner with three of his teacher pals, there’s talk of a study that suggests people, in general, are living with a natural blood alcohol content (BAC) that’s below where it should be to make them more relaxed, confident and happy. Maybe they should raise their own BACs, just to see what happens, find out how it would affect them personally and professionally, and to “write a brilliant psychological essay about it.”
Soon after, Martin is slugging vodka in the school bathroom, Nickolaj (Magnus Millang) is sneaking some wine before breakfast, Peter (Lars Ranthe) manages to imbibe right in the classroom and Tommy (Thomas Bo Larsen) is drinking from his “water bottle” while coaching soccer.
Life, surprisingly to the participants of the experiment gets better, especially for Martin, who takes command of his classes, and actually teaches rather than waiting for his students to do the talking. He feels energized and his students find him more interesting.
The script looks at changes that come over all four of them, but sticks most closely with Martin, both in the classroom and at home, where life hasn’t been all that pleasant for him, his wife, or their two boys. The camera spends a lot of time studying Mikkelsen’s expressive face in close-up, much of it while he’s listening more than talking, making us wonder what’s going on inside.
No surprise, things start to go wrong, even as they’re going well. A janitor discovers hidden liquor bottles at school, and reports his find to authorities, but doesn’t know who’s responsible for them. “We have to be more careful,” says one to the other three. “I haven’t felt this good in ages,” says another.
When the experiment evolves to another level - Should we up our intake? - everyday existence gets a little rocky. When the idea of trying to reach “maximum BAC” transpires, things get out of control, both seriously (life at home is put to the test for a couple of them) and comically (a scene of the drunk quartet shopping, fishing, singing, running through the streets and having more drinks).
A disturbing turn has Peter suggesting to a nervous student that it could be a good idea for him to have a drink before an upcoming exam, as it might help with his anxiety.
In a terrifically controlled example of moods swinging up and down, the script keeps shifting between the good sides and the bad sides of the experiment, spending plenty of time on all of them and their separate situations, but focusing on Martin. When it becomes clear that certain incidents have led to “immense negative social effects and danger of alcoholism,” three of the men clean up their acts, and one doesn’t. Tragedy ensues.
With everything falling down around everyone, but a hint that some aspects of some of their lives are going to get better, the film miraculously achieves a happy ending, of sorts. Remarkably, and mostly due to Mikkelson’s handling of the role, it doesn’t feel at all out of place.
“Another Round” will be available on VOD starting Dec. 18.
Ed Symkus can be reached at email@example.com.
Written by Thomas Vinterberg and Tobias Lindholm; directed by Thomas Vinterberg
With Mads Mikkelsen, Thomas Bo Larsen, Magnus Millang, Lars Ranthe
In Danish, with English subtitles.