Robert Horton is a Scarecrow board member and a longtime film critic. He will be contributing a series of “critic’s notes” to the Scarecrow blog—a chance to highlight worthy films playing locally and connecting them to the riches of Scarecrow’s collection.
Here’s another revenue-sharing movie; you can watch Another Round in a way that helps the Grand Illusion Cinema.
Thomas Vinterberg has a touch with dinner scenes: Putting people in a situation where certain rituals and norms are expected, and then watching them fail to live up to those norms. His most famous movie, The Celebration, is arranged around an extended dinner party where the most dreadful revelations detonate. In his new film, Another Round, meals are similarly fraught. One early scene sets the table, as it were, for what follows: Four male friends, all high-school teachers, take a night out for a birthday dinner, which becomes the occasion for Martin (Mads Mikkelsen) to abruptly begin crying. After setbacks at work and home, he realizes that his life is not at all what he imagined for himself years earlier. Something has to change.
The dinner also includes a discussion of a theory by a Norwegian psychiatrist, Finn Skarderud, which holds that because humans are actually a little deficient in alcohol production in the body, it might not be a bad idea to have a little buzz on for optimal productivity. (My summary of this theory should not be used as a guide.) So the four men decide to increase their daily alcohol consumption to maximize their engagement with the world. For Martin, this becomes nothing less than transformative, goosing his classroom presence and altering his relationship with his wife (Maria Bonnevie) and two sons.
Nothing is simple about this process, and the transformation has serious consequences. The film’s best attribute, aside from that nicely-judged dinner scene, is Mikkelsen’s performance. No surprise there—Mikkelsen was also strong with Vinterberg in the Oscar-nominated The Hunt (2012)—but here he creates a quiet gem of small moments. We can measure how defeated Martin is at the beginning of the film by his deployment of the word “Okay,” in response to student demands, school complaints, or his wife’s requests. This is not the dazed indifference of the generational “Okay” shrugged so reflexively by Pete Davidson in those “Chad” sketches on Saturday Night Live; Mikkelsen manages to imbue the two syllables with a kind of terrible retreat from life, a despondent resignation masquerading as acquiescence. After he’s had a swig, that resignation vanishes. When Martin flickers into life under the influence, Mikkelsen’s body language changes entirely, and yet the actor doesn’t lose Martin’s essentially scholarly mien.
Elsewhere, Another Round wobbles a little, veering from boozy Cassavetes-style sentimentality to surprising moments of corn. The humor is neatly-played, especially by the other three drinkmates: Thomas Bo Larsen, Magnus Millang, and Lars Ranthe. There’s no way of getting around the fact that the film barely pays lip service to the female characters, even as it tries to make room for Martin’s wife to be something more than just a plot necessity. That’s odd for a movie released in 2020, and a measure of how Vinterberg’s early promise has (and for an index of his limitations as a director, I refer you to Far from the Madding Crowd) not realized itself with a really great film.
Robert Horton is a member of the National Society of Film Critics.