Published on December 23rd, 2020 | by Noah Dimitrie0
Danish auteur Thomas Vinterberg returns with a soused up dramedy about four teachers who commit to a rather intoxicating social experiment.
Another Round has the premise of a raunchy Vince Vaughn vehicle circa 2008. The new Danish flick from Thomas Vinterberg (The Hunt, Celebration) is stuffed to the brim with the kind of premise-driven comedic potential that made bank in the aughts. And while the film is not afraid to “bro out,” it never panders to the predictable notions of what it could (or should) be. It bobs and weaves in and out of genres like a drunk staggering home. Yet the poised vision of Vinterberg–that liberal European sensibility mixed with a reluctance for egregious self-seriousness—infuses this somewhat slight dramedy with a maturity and an endless watchability.
Starring Mads Mikkelson, who you may have seen in NBC’s Hannibal or as the diabolical Le Chifre in Casino Royale, the film revolves around a teacher’s mid-life crisis and the solution his co-workers come up with to yank their lives out of the proverbial gutter. Invoking a psychological study by Finn Skårderud from memory, they all agree to maintain a BAC level of 0.05%–a newfangled lifestyle that is theoretically supposed to ease their anxieties and rejuvenate their droll teaching careers. But in putting their theory to the test, they slowly but surely descend into a soused-up free-fall in which they have to weight the pros versus the cons of their little experiment, and ultimately confront whether their drinking is a clever solution or feeble emotional crutch.
In typical European fashion, the film nixes the awkwardly shoehorned moral maxims you’d find in a raunchy Hollywood equivalent. The film undoubtably unpacks what it means to fall into the fateful hands of alcoholism—the “slow descent” as The New Pornographers once sang. It illustrates the compromising effects of constant drinking, the catch 22 of this psychological theory. The more they reap the rewards of their experiment, the further they push the envelope until they’re resorting to getting plastered for inspiration. The message, at a glance, seems to be that the more it “helps” you, the more it chains itself to you.
But the film certainly surprised me with the way it smoothly counters the obvious arguments with a refreshingly positive depiction of drinking culture. The film opens with an annual Danish tradition that teenagers participate in—a drinking race in which teams have to chug beers in a crate and complete tasks. Early on, the film sets itself up to indulge itself in a youthful thirst for life, love, and of course, booze. Later, one of our experiment’s participants encourages a youngster to drink before his exam to calm his nerves. The predictable development would be that it horribly backfires and the student fails, the teacher loses his job, etc. Instead, the teen succeeds, and the teacher is smirkingly vindicated. The film celebrates a kind of beauty in alcohol through the rich tradition of drinking in Denmark. For every negative outcome, a positive one seems to pop up. For every yin, a yang. And ultimately, the film leaves you with a satisfactory feeling that the experiment, while inciting some conflict and dysfunction, ultimately led to deeper self-understanding.
Vinterberg’s skill is on display primarily in the way he manages to integrate these seemingly opposite messages together without cancelling each other out. He does this with a slick combination of affective tones. Certain sobering scenes play for laughs. And certain uplifting moments are dead serious. The acclaimed director has very little interest in telegraphing profundity, but rather allows the actions of the characters–the situations they fall into—to speak for themselves. Comedy and drama do not so much shift as they do coalesce into a very life-like portrait. While the stakes may seem low, and the film overall may give off a slight whiff of paltriness, Vinterberg elevates very normal people in very relatable situations into the stuff of intrigue and sometimes suspense. His camera moves like a human, breathes the same oxygen as the characters. It is his very tangible presence in the story that gives it its momentum. So while it may seem like a minor outing in his impeccable filmography, I think it serves as a healthy chapter in the auteur’s filmography by simply taking such crude behavior very seriously.
A strong thematic undercurrent of youth versus middle age runs through this film as well. Mikkelson’s character is going through a midlife crisis of sorts and that is rather sharply contrasted with the youthful exuberance of teenagers getting drunk and partying. In the end, these seemingly opposing forces come together in one of the most surprising and delightful movie endings of the year. If anything, alcohol becomes a symbol in this film—a symbol of youth but also the desire to reclaim something, to turn back the clock. And while our characters do not exactly succeed in that endeavor, they surely discover that alcohol as a means to an end can be exquisite when one’s intentions are clear and not suffering under delusions. For a film so frank and honest, it isn’t afraid to bask in the idea that youth isn’t so much an age as it is a mindset. That is the biggest conclusion to be mined from their little experiment.