Delightful Comedy 'Another Round' Analyzes Our Cultural Relationship To Alcohol
In any normal year, the delightful Danish comedy “Another Round” would already be in the middle of a months-long run at area arthouses. It’s the kind of crowd-pleasing import that used to arrive with little fanfare and then a few weeks later you’re suddenly hearing about it from your parents’ friends who never go to the movies. This is one of those films like “The Full Monty” or “Waking Ned Devine” that people who’ve seen can’t wait to tell you about, and they smile when they do. I worry for the survival of such sleepers. With cinema currently fragmented into siloed streaming options, it’s awfully easy for modest movies like this to get buried in the content glut. How does a word-of-mouth hit happen if nobody’s around to spread the word? “Another Round” opens this week at the Brattle and Coolidge Corner Theatre Virtual Screening Rooms and I’m wondering if it will be able to find a foothold in our new media landscape. I hope so.
The film stars Mads Mikkelsen, best known to American television audiences as the sexiest of all Hannibal Lecters, here putting his cathedral-architecture cheekbones to excellent use as Martin, a burnt-out high school history teacher in such a depressive funk he’s facing a formal intervention from parents and administrators about his dead-eyed, aimless lectures. Martin’s kids seldom look up from their video games to register his presence, while his wife always seems to be somewhere else. At a friend’s 40th birthday dinner, he and a few colleagues from school contemplate their middle-aged torpor, then proceed to get themselves righteously snockered.
It seems there’s a Norwegian psychiatrist named Finn Skårderud who believes that human beings are born with a blood alcohol content level that’s 0.05% too low, and that going around with a mild buzz all the time makes people happier, more musical and increases creativity in their work. Martin and his pals decide to test Skårderud’s theory — all in the name of science, of course — stashing bottles around the school and buying themselves handheld breathalyzer machines so they can monitor and maintain their glow throughout the workday. They decide to follow Hemingway’s old house rules of no drinking after 8 p.m. and never on weekends. (I’ve noticed that people who try to model themselves after Ernest Hemingway always ignore the way his story ended, and I can attest to this from personal experience.)
Hilariously enough, the experiment is a smashing success. At least for a little while, anyway. Martin is suddenly fun again, cracking up his students and engaging with his work in ways he hasn’t for years. (He even has sex with his wife!) The school’s soccer coach starts winning games for the first time in ages and if my eyes don’t deceive me the cinematography gets a bit brighter and the colors become warmer. “Another Round” carries with it a lightheaded, libertine kick, as Martin’s revised history lectures make sure to point out how famous booze bags FDR and Churchill won WWII while half in the wrapper whereas Hitler was a notorious teetotaler. The film captures the loose, low-key euphoria you feel somewhere around the end of your second beer, and isn't it funny how the problems never seem to start until you have a third one.
There aren’t a lot of ways this story can go, with the personal and professional disasters piling up as Martin and his pals attempt to expand their experiment. I imagine the inevitable American remake of “Another Round” will take a more scolding, puritanical tone, but director Thomas Vinterberg (who wrote the script with Tobias Lindholm) is more curious about our cultural relationship to alcohol, which is multifaceted to say the least. “This entire country drinks like maniacs anyway,” sighs Martin’s disgusted wife, as the movie thoughtfully explores the social structures in which boozing has become embedded with wry humor and a great deal of ambivalence.
I realize I might be making the film sound less fun than it is, and probably underselling the wonderful warmth Mikkelsen and his co-stars bring to these slurry sad sacks. Director Vinterberg has had a difficult career to pin down. He burst onto the international scene as part of Lars von Trier’s Dogme 95 movement with the corrosive family drama “The Celebration,” followed by erratic curiosities like the quasi-Western “Dear Wendy” and a tony, star-studded adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s “Far From the Madding Crowd” that felt like it was being played on fast-forward. “Another Round” is the most accessible of Vinterberg’s films, exhibiting a clean, classical command of the medium that works wonders in the film’s unexpectedly ecstatic final sequence. It would be rude of me to spoil what's probably the year’s best ending, save to say that I wish I had been able to see it with a big crowd at the Coolidge. Oh well, at least when watching it at home you can pour yourself a drink.
“Another Round” starts streaming Friday, Dec. 4, at the Brattle Theatre and Coolidge Corner Theatre Virtual Screening Rooms.