Another Round (2020)

Directed by Thomas Vinterberg; Written by Thomas Vinterberg and Tobias Lindholm

“Am I boring?” is not a fun question to have to ask someone else. We’d like to think we lead rich lives, do interesting things, even if we appear a little mundane on the surface. Sure, we’re doing the 9-5, chill on the couch the rest of the time, but we’re actually really intriguing and compelling, trust me. We tell ourselves what’s likely cute little lies, because if we don’t, christ, it’s too depressing to really consider.

“Am I boring?” is also a vulnerable question to ask your wife and the mother of your children, the person who knows you best, knows you truly, and can summon every nuance of your character from a small lifetime spent in intimacy. Surely, a resounding answer of “No!” is to be expected, spat from her lips as if the mere suggestion is distasteful. “And don’t ever let me hear you say it again,” you hope to hear her say. It’s calamitous when instead your question is met with a long, fraught silence, punctured finally by “you’re different from the person I knew.” Someone turn out the lights, this life is over. 

Yet, that’s the fate of Martin, husband, father of two boys, and struggling high school teacher, who’s seen his youth wilt in the fog of domesticity. Students ignore him, their parents chastise his poor work, his family merely tolerates him, his friends pity him. Had Vinterberg been the same director he was twenty years ago, Martin would have curled up and died in unspectacular fashion similar to how he lived, but in Another Round, the drink’s in the other hand, and Vinterberg knows what’s needed to bring this neglected house plant back to life: alcohol. 

The premise is giddy and cheeky: Martin, along with three friends, his colleagues and similarly challenged middle-aged men, set out to field test a Norwegian philosopher’s theory that man was born a smidge too sober. By tying one on, just a little bit, and maintaining it throughout the day, they look to revitalize their lives. Cheers to that!

Like the experiment undertaken, Another Round is heady fun. Four men in gleeful pursuit of that elusive feeling of being carefree and open to the world, a little less bogged down by adult life and the promise youthful vitality held. Shedding social pretence, they’re free to shape their lives again, and raucous scenes of seeing life alight again, take pleasure in all of life’s small moments, and coaxing out all its pleasures is intoxicating viewing. 

So even when they’re boys behaving badly (as badly as well-mannered, well-to-do Danes can behave) it’s a happy spectacle because of the innocent reason these men strike out, relatable to anyone over 25 who’s started to feel a little adrift on life’s grand ocean  and is looking for an answer to to the question at the heart of Another Round: where did my life get off to? 

The idea of getting half in the bag to sort your life out is hilarious on its own, but it’s lived out with such depth of feeling, such humour and camaraderie by the quartet of Mads Mikkelsen, Thomas Bo Larsen, Magnus Millang and Lars Ranthe, who despite their innate character differences strike the perfect balance. Their exemplification of old friends whose differing lives don’t detract from that strange, inexplicable bond they share because of childhood bonding is stellar, and even if the other three are mirrors to Mikkelsen’s central Martin, Millang, Ranthe and Larsen’s performances are pitch-perfect harmonies. 

Yes, of course, alcohol isn’t the solution to anyone’s problems, and happiness never poured out of any bottle, and if there’s any finger to point at Another Round, it’s perhaps the slightly clichéed character of Bo Larsen, a gym teacher who found courage in the bottle long before his friends joined him. His perhaps predictable arc is only salvaged by Bo Larsen’s immaculate warm and lived-in performance. Without it, it almost feels like obvious moralistic hedging on the part of Vinterberg, pausing the action to let us know that drinking irresponsibly and with bad intentions is bad, mmkay. 

But it’s a forgettable hiccup on the life-loving bender that is Another Round, because while it has a salacious premise, it’s just the fizz on top of the drink. What really fills you up is the belief that the person you were was never lost, but was always right where you left him. 

It’s a blindingly positive outlook from a man whose earlier films shied away from sunlight, if only to reveal the dirt tucked away in the shadows, and it’s a life-affirming joy ride to go on for its duration. A triumph and celebration of how much can be wrung from life if you let it, but never shying away from how difficult it can be. Work, love, life is not unlocked, it’s simply lived. Vinterberg says yes, you can get high on life, so let’s have another round. 

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