Mads Mikkelsen stars in Another Round (in cinemas now) as a teacher whose midlife crisis leads to an experiment – is life better when lived under the influence of a constant level of alcohol? Mikkelsen is astonishing, Steve Newall writes, in a film that embraces comical cheekiness but offers more than just lightly sozzled entertainment.
New Zealand’s binge-drinking culture has many downsides, but perhaps one of its rare benefits is that local audiences seeing Another Round may bring with them a similar attitude to alcohol as that demonstrated onscreen by heavy-drinking Danes. “This entire country drinks like maniacs!” a character exclaims at one point—to which Kiwis may opt to shrug “hold my beer”.
Less booze-fueled societies than our own may be shocked by the Lake Run that opens the film, which sees teams of teens racing around a lake and working their way through a crate of beer as they do so. It’s a ritual that comes with rules about vomiting (one team member pukes, time is added to their score; the whole team pukes together, time is deducted). So far, so scarfie.
This is no tale of youth gone wild, though. Rather, Another Round places midlife crisis squarely at its centre as the youthful silliness of the Lake Run is contrasted with the introduction of history teacher Martin (Mads Mikkelsen), a man failing to even go through the motions. Withdrawn and disinterested, he’s so bad at his job that his students feel let down, and his wife and children are more cohabitors than part of a loving family unit.
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When Martin’s problems come to light after shocking several colleagues with tearful revelations over dinner, these four friends examine a notion presumably mentioned in jest. Humans exist with a deficit of blood alcohol, a Norwegian psychiatrist reckons, and so the quartet heeds this advice, aiming for a blood alcohol percentage of 0.05% throughout their day. It’s a constant level of intoxication equivalent to one to two glasses of wine, and accordingly, they all feel bloody amazing.
Initially, at least, the group adheres to stringent rules as they conduct their “research”, and Martin sees improvement in all areas of his life, as do his half-cut conspirators. That’s to the immense pleasure of the viewer, who’s let in on their secret, covert pre-work (and during work) drinking. This is where Another Round is at it’s most comical, embracing a cheekiness that’s enhanced by how endearing Mikkelsen is to watch as he blossoms under the influence, as well as the entertainment to be found in the group’s boozy blundering.
But, as Mikkelsen’s previous starring role for director Thomas Vinterberg (excellent 2013 Oscar nominee The Hunt) might suggest, the pair have more on their minds than lightly sozzled entertainment, with Another Round going on to explore darker dramatic terrain. It won’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s ever indulged a little more than they’d intended that Martin and his friends stretch their initial rules around drinking. Here’s where chuckles in the cinema will take on a different tone as the audience wonders just how far they’re willing to take things—and what the consequences will be.
And again, as anyone who’s sought solace from their circumstances will know, one’s problems can be forgotten while under the influence, but they certainly do not disappear.
Fortunately, in Vinterberg’s assured hands Another Round doesn’t try to have its cake and eat it too in Hollywood fashion by changing gears from “being drunk is funny” to “being drunk is bad”. By the time the film has seen Mikkelsen astonish us in a spectacularly joyful conclusion, Another Round seems to be suggesting that—alcoholism excepted—the problem with drinking isn’t with the substance itself, but with how it’s used. That’s not as callously libertarian as it sounds, but is also more nuanced than a simple message of abstinence, meaning Danes and New Zealanders alike can breathe a sigh of relief.