Runtime: 115 minutes
Director: Thomas Vinterberg
Writers: Thomas Vinterberg & Tobias Lindholm
Starring: Mads Mikkelsen, Thomas Bo Larsen, Lars Ranthe, Magnus Millang, Maria Bonnevie
By Calum Cooper
The last time director Thomas Vinterberg and actor Mads Mikkelsen paired up, we were given the riveting feature “The Hunt” (2012). Now the two have reunited for another round (pun intended) with “Another Round” (2020), an unusual but deftly crafted look into the infallibility of masculinity. It is a film that recognises the vulnerabilities in people and explores the complications that arise from them, as well as the strengths and weaknesses of chosen coping mechanisms.
Martin (Mikkelsen) is a high school history teacher who has become so bogged down by the daily routines of life that he has become indifferent to most things. He is distant from his family, and his students, being privy to his boredom, barely attempt to engage with his lessons anymore. They are more concerned with weekend parties and opportune moments to get drunk, something that concerns the school. When Martin attends a birthday dinner with fellow teachers/friends, Tommy (Thomas Bo Larsen), Nickolaj (Mangus Millang) and Peter (Lars Ranthe), they all agree that his indifference needs to stop.
“Another Round” strikes a good mix of dramatic and good-humoured. It has a jovial tone to its story overall, even if its themes are solemn in execution.”
So Tommy proposes an experiment: all four men drink during the day. Basing their experiment on a psychiatric theory, they drink just enough during the day that they are at the fine line between drunk and sober, a space that the theory suggests people work best in. With this, the men hope to take better charge of their lives, and at first the experiment does seem to be a success, especially as Martin begins to become more flamboyant and engaging with his classes and family. But with an experiment this problematic there are highs and lows in store for all involved.
This is quite a peculiar film in some ways. There are so many films that deal with the consequences of alcoholism out there, and while “Another Round” may not be outright alcoholism, it isn’t outright condoning it either. That’s because it is doing something a lot cleverer – it is pulling back the curtain to show just how much we as people rely on emotional crutches to get through life. We become so bogged down by the repetitious mundanity of life that we, like Martin, become detached unless we find a means of lifting ourselves up. Sometimes that can be something healthy, like exercise, and sometimes that can be alcohol. Rather than take a stance one way or the other, the film operates on a morally grey standpoint that suggests that some reliance on coping strategies, even alcohol, is okay as long as it doesn’t consume your life and effectively replace one problem with another.
“Another Round” once again showcases Vinterberg’s knack for taking unorthodox scenarios and gleaning impressive social commentary from them.”
In showcasing our reliance on coping mechanisms, the film reveals the anxieties that come with aging and realising that you may not be living the life you wanted. This happens to everyone, but the film, with its four lead characters, shows how aging and anxiety can strip away the image of breadwinning masculinity and display how vulnerable or distant we are from life and those we love. The film goes further by showing how reliant we can become on our coping strategies. The men certainly do find some success initially with their theory. Martin becomes much more upbeat and humorous in his teaching, thus generating more engagement from his students. Meanwhile the other three find various extents of success too, be it with their marriages or their relationships with their students, such as one moment when Tommy helps a nervous student prepare for a difficult exam. But the film is about how coping mechanisms, as useful as they can be, do not substitute for a full life, and as the story progresses, the friends must learn how to find the balance between fun and responsibility in a way that allows them to live the most fulfilled experience.
It sounds like a rather sombre film when described like this. But unlike Vinterberg’s last collaboration with Mikkelsen, “The Hunt”, which was consistently harrowing, “Another Round” strikes a good mix of dramatic and good-humoured. It has a jovial tone to its story overall, even if its themes are solemn in execution. This is thanks to Vinterberg’s and co-writer Tobias Lindholm’s vibrant script, the stylish direction, and particularly the multi-layered performances of all the actors. Mikkelsen especially is on top form, able to pull off heart-wrenching turmoil and flamboyant displays of fun, including a dance number that may be the flat out greatest thing to have happened this year.
“Another Round” once again showcases Vinterberg’s knack for taking unorthodox scenarios and gleaning impressive social commentary from them. Here he visually discusses the vulnerabilities of adulthood, particularly masculinity, and how we can find fulfilment within our lives either because of or in spite of coping strategies needed to do so. It’s a film that’s as smart as it is engrossingly amiable, and while I may have personally enjoyed the likes of “Wolfwalkers” (2020) or “Limbo” (2020) more, I can certainly see why it took home the London Film Festival’s top prize this year.