A local brewery in my hometown has a quote emblazoned on their glasses that I’ve always liked: “Because without beer, things do not seem to go as well.” The quote in question comes from the 1902 diary of a monk. If a turn-of-the-century religious man found that life improves overall with moderate consumption of well-crafted alcohol, surely there must be something to it.
A surface-level reading of Another Round, Thomas Vinterberg’s lightly humorous exploration of masculinity and middle age malaise, reflects a similar conclusion. The four male protagonists find that maintaining a light buzz makes them happier and more impassioned. There is, however, more going on here than a celebration of the benefits of day-drinking. Through its central friendships, Another Round considers the ways vulnerability and community help us get through rough patches, recalibrate our priorities and joyfully embrace life.
Martin (Mads Mikkelsen), Tommy (Thomas Bo Larsen), Peter (Lars Ranthe), and Nikolaj (Magnus Millang) are all teachers at the same school, facing various forms of ennui and midlife disappointment. Martin in particular struggles to maintain his passion for teaching history, and feels disconnected from wife, Anika (Maria Bonnevie), a nurse, who’s often away from home working night shifts.
At his 40th birthday dinner, Nikolaj proposes an experiment based on a theory that all humans achieve optimum performance and happiness with a .05% blood alcohol level. The men set out to keep that .05 level during the day and document the results, which turn out to be surprisingly positive. Peter becomes more attentive to his students’ needs. Martin and Tommy are more enthusiastic teachers. Martin also experiences renewed passion in his marriage. Playing with higher blood alcohol levels, however, proves disastrous, and forces the men to address the underlying issues that drove them to this point in the first place.
Another Round’s most enjoyable element is its consideration of male friendship. Vinterberg shoots the film with his trademark naturalism, which enriches his depiction of the protagonists’ support of and openness with each other. He lets them cry, laugh, rib each other and awkwardly dance together in a way that’s surprisingly vulnerable, but always feels genuine. Another Round’s premise could easily be the basis for an American studio comedy, but while its boisterous concept certainly tracks, it’s unlikely Vinterberg’s subtlety would translate.
Of course, there are consequences to embracing a life of alcoholism, which Vinterberg also explores. The film avoids PSA territory, but does suggest that unlocking a more engaged existence for these men has less to do with the magic of booze and more with them making an effort together to better appreciate what they already have. By creating a system in which they report on their experiences to each other, the characters essentially make their own accountability group. The effects of this are particularly apparent in Mikkelsen’s performance, which – in terms of his classroom energy level – starts at Ben Stein in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and ends at Robin Williams in Dead Poets’ Society.
Another Round is a warm-hearted meditation on reconsidering life in middle age, and the fact that a mid-life crisis shouldn’t be navigated alone. It’s also an all-too-rare look at male friendship that is honest in showing its characters’ strengths and weaknesses, and the ways their relationship to each other helps them each understand what’s really important. Most of all, it’s a sweet reminder to look for and celebrate the small triumphs in life, alongside setbacks. The message may not be astounding, but its gentleness feels profound.
“Another Round” is out now in virtual cinemas and available on demand Friday.