‘Another Round’ Review: A Beautifully Mixed Cocktail

“There’s this psychologist, Finn Skårderud,” begins baby-faced and unassuming Nikolaj (Magnus Millang), a teacher of human psychology at a Copenhagen gymnasium. “He has a theory that humans are born with a blood alcohol content that’s .05 percent too low.” That a table full of depressed middle-aged men with stale, directionless lives might perk up at the idea that drinking more could get them their mojo back feels about right, and while Another Round is too conventionally structured and rooted in the non-culture of Danish suburban life for its own good, the events which spiral out from that night of bullshitting and drinking are carried so charmingly by the movie’s four leads that it’s easy to overlook its occasionally tedious foundation.

Mads Mikkelsen in particular is a delight, his sharklike features here believably hangdog as he shuffles through a phoned-in marriage, a listless job as a history teacher, and all the other hallmarks of the classic literary midlife crisis. The film is clever enough to show his character, Martin, for what he is: a man whose self-image is too fragile for honest scrutiny and who uses the excuse of his circle’s “experiment” to discharge his repressed emotions. At first there’s catharsis, excitement, the bleeding away of years of built-up inhibition, but on its heels comes the oozing sludge of resentment, selfishness, and disregard. The film takes a complex view of the culture surrounding alcohol, positioning it not as the evil, soul-sucking force posited by so much American media on the subject but as a neutral social mediator, a part of society the impact of which is determined by social norms and the people who use it.

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If the scenes immediately preceding the film’s finale feel a little too precious, the final sequence itself is sheer joy, a kinetic, hurtling dance sequence culminating in a moment which wraps risk, life, excess, stupidity, and release into a single fleeting image. There’s real power here, and if the film might have been more interesting had it shown more interest in the women around its leads, or in the institution of marriage itself, as it stands there’s plenty to enjoy within its somewhat standard framework. As a portrait of arrested development among men and the struggle of existing in that mode once the boundless energy and indifference to consequences of youth have gone, Another Round is poignant. When Martin quietly breaks down during dinner with his fellow teachers there’s such a palpable feeling of inability, a sense that these men have no idea what to do with their friend’s pain.

Thomas Vinterberg’s direction is likewise competently enjoyable. He follows his subjects with a shaky but reliable frame, capturing their unique body language and intricately expressive faces — the four leads are wonderfully distinct from one another, a Fellini’s Faces of aging Danes — with diligent attention to detail. There’s a pleasantly natural feel to his visual style, something between family-member-with-camcorder and documentary crew, which deepens one’s sense of intimacy with the cast even as the worst they have to offer shines through the first act’s tentative joys. It may be a little staid, and a little sentimental, but Another Round is well worth tossing back.