After working together in The Hunt, Director Thomas Vinterberg reunites with Mads Mikkelsen for a unique twist of the upbeat and contemplative, as they delve into the world of four, middle-age friends who’ve lost connection to the world around them. With a desire to seek out any link to the people they feel they once were, they trial a pseudoscientific theory (by Norwegian psychiatrist Finn Skårderud) that suggests drinking a specific level of alcohol throughout the working day can enhance their productivity, their disposition and – in turn – help them reconnect to their work and personal lives, in which they are struggling psychologically.
But before we get there, we begin with a little character and location background as the film opens by showing a large group of youngsters partying on a train, being raucous and while in a positive manner, it’s unhinged, binged alcohol-related chaos disrupting people on the streets of Oslo. We then cut back to the school, because our four main personalities are teachers, and they’re discussing whether drinking should be banned – or better controlled – when the kids are out of school. It doesn’t seem there’s much extreme progress but, like anywhere, they’ve got to be seen to be considering action.
This is also when we meet Martin (Mikkelsen), a history teacher (of sorts), and are given a general overlook of students who aren’t paying attention to their teachers and mumbling their way through lessons without much attachment. Here we witness how ineffectual Martin is, he’s disconnected and bored by his own words, not focused on what he’s saying, his students are accusing him of ruining their futures and he’s completely despondent to it all. This feeling of unhappiness echoes into his home life, where his two sons don’t really care if he’s at home or not and his wife Anika (Maria Bonnevie) is working night shifts, so they don’t see each other either. All in all, this could be set for a miserable life.
So, Martin is struggling but one night goes out for dinner with three of his teacher friends – the focus of which is Nikolaj’s (Magnus Millang) 40th Birthday, but there’s also Lars Ranthe’s Peter and Thomas Bo Larsen’s Tommy. While the latter trio aren’t in the finest place in their lives, it’s clear that Martin is the worst of. He’s ambivalent towards having a drink, avoiding committed discussion and any real human interaction. But after a couple of coerced shots of vodka, and a mild crying breakdown, an important conversation about the aforementioned Skårderud (in which the psychiatrist claims you need a constant level of alcohol in your bloodstream to be truly open to life) ensues. With vodka in the synapses, he gets on board, and they spend the night getting wasted, all with the helpful excuse of this being a scientific ‘test’, and with the buzz that Martin and his friends get, the game is afoot.
With a plan in action, and the sense they’ve nothing to lose, they agree on a secret pact that sees a subtle level of alcohol sneaking its way into their coffee during the working day. Martin seizes upon an almost instant impact in his teaching, his students like the regenerated tutor and his confidence levels are boosted. From feeling like a boring old man with nothing much to say, he begins to feel engaged with his work, his wife, family and beyond. In fact, the group all see positive changes in their lives, but because they’re only feeling a subtle buzz of success, they decide to up it another level by increasing their alcohol intake – all still secretly – and continue to see encouraging results but, of course, with anything that continues to hit a high (see LFF doc Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets for a real-life representation)… there has to come a low and, in truth, addiction may not have hit Martin but it’s evident that Tommy is starting to let it take over his life, even outside of the hours they’ve agreed to drink.
What follows is an equal measure of amusement and sorrow, this sensation entwines its way through all their lives, taking off the pressure of home but mostly rediscovering parts of who they were when they were younger, before having children, before the mundane and before despondency set in. Director Vinterberg works again from a script with co-writer Tobias Lindholm, as they let everyman Mads Mikkelsen give a glorious, extremely terrific performance as Martin, from desperately empty to soaring high on the wings of alcohol. Early on, you can really feel his sadness and separation – as you can across the quartet – but it’s a genuine joy to watch his recovery. While the subjects might run deep, Another Round is a very funny film and if you’re in your 30s and up, then you’ll understand where our characters are at. I’d also recommend Judd Apatow‘s underrated This is 40 for a true insight into the state of growing older, whether you’ve got children or not, and it even has an essence of Simon Pegg’s Gary from The World’s End, a man who can’t let go of a past he once knew.
Another Round is a smart, poignant and warm-hearted take on growing older that offers a sincere meditation of allowing yourself to let go. It’s also a comment on self-esteem, friendship and the importance of being honest, and keeping your life ticking over, even when things feel like they’re not going anywhere. Maybe in this era, Vinterberg’s film felt even more cathartic with an essential reminder that there’s always chaos along the way but letting go of your personal restraints is vital. It can also help if you’re outrageously impressive at jazz-ballet dancing, and that you should put it all out there. Wonder what the hell that means? Well, you must see this when you can, it’s a wonderfully unusual delight.