Movie Review: Mads and Mates consider the pleasures and consequences of “Another Round”

They don’t need an “experiment” to confirm what anybody of drinking age learns all too quickly, that there’s “tipsy” and fun, “cute” drunk, “sloppy” (sentimental) drunk and “mean” drunk.

They can see it in their students, teenagers who cut loose with a drinking-game/sprint around a local lake which inevitably gets out of hand with pranks and general drunk-and-disorderly (vomiting) excess.

But as they’re academics, four longtime friends, colleagues at a Danish high school, why not couch their “research” in scientific/philosophical terms? They can see one of their ranks, Martin (Mads Mikkelson) is hurting and kind of lost. The lonely gym teacher Tommy (Thomas Bo Larsen) is always down for another Tuborg. Shy and unmarried choral teacher Peter (Lars Ranthe) figures why not?

And youngest member, psychology teacher Nikolaj (Magnus Millang), the father overwhelmed by the brood back home whose birthday the other three have gathered to celebrate. He sees sad, burnt-out history teacher Martin in need of an intervention. Instead, Nikolaj quotes this Norwegian psychological theorist Finn Skårderud who has the notion humans are naturally alcohol-deprived, that our optimum BAC (blood alcohol content) is .05% off. That’s how he gets “Not tonight, I’m driving” Martin to drink with them.

After all, what harm is there in “Another Round?”

With his latest film (titled
“Druk” in Danish), Thomas Vinterberg (“The Hunt”) dips into dipsomania in its Scandinavian form. He puts four men, their relationships, their careers and their futures in a blender filled with vodka, whisky, wine, beer and absinthe and gazes in no-real-surprise at what happens.

Sure, a better title might have been “Why Men Drink.” But this character study, set against an idea as politically incorrect as as Denzel’s “drugs give this airline pilot his edge” drama “Flight,” is fascinating.

“Another Round” is one of the best pictures of the year.

The story centers on Martin, raising two sons with a nurse-wife (Maria Bonnevie) who works nights, and thus barely sees. Mikkelson, as always, lets us catch the despair in his eyes. What Martin’s students notice is a teacher who has checked-out, endangering their performance on final exams that will determine college, career options, their entire future.

His friends see the signs, maybe even his eyes tearing up. But everybody gets distracted by this “experiment” and what they’ll “discover.” Buy breathalyzers, have a snootfull in the AM, maybe a refill closer to noon, hit that .05% mark and maintain it. No drinking after 8pm, no tippling on the weekends. Because…SCIENCE.

And what follows is something the movies haven’t dared show since Mothers Against Drunk Driving took control of the alcohol narrative. The choral teacher gets interested in his students’ lives and problems, the psyche-teacher Dad lightens up. The gruff, bullying coach warms-up to the unathletic shrimp, “Specs,” he’s written off.

And Martin? He takes an interest at home, charms his wife with vacation talk and reaches his students for maybe the first time all term.

His new subject? Churchill and FDR, Hemingway, Hitler and U.S. Grant and their relationships to alcohol.

Vinterberg has a lot of fun with this sidebar, showing snippets of assorted world leaders bending an elbow, Boris Yeltsin to Boris Johnson, politicians getting the public giggles (Bill Clinton with Yeltsin after God knows HOW many vodkas).

Everybody in this teaching quartet is convinced they’re seeing proof of Skårderud’s theory.

“I haven’t felt this good in AGES!” (in Danish with English subtitles).

But remember, SCIENCE. “Why not try going a bit higher?”

And so they do, with riotous sing-alongs, boozy staggering and roughhousing, filling water bottles with vodka for the office and of course, hiding bottles at work.

What can go wrong?

Zeroing in on Martin, Vinterberg gets at the obvious points — alcohol never solves problems — and goes beyond to consider “why men drink” and drinking camaraderie group-think, drinking to not think about your problems as you “take the edge off.”

The alcohol cure (Which can’t be what Skårderud had in mind, or can it?) has its benefits, which movies haven’t dared show in decades. But there are also chiseled-in-stone statistical risks, from damaging-to-fatal BAC levels to the probability that some among the four won’t cope or come out the other side.

The Melancholy Dane Mikkelson, always on the verge of tears in most films (a near-weeping Bond villain), makes the most of a rare opportunity to play it light. We even get a dazzling taste of his pre-acting life as a dancer.

Among the supporting players, Bonnevie (“Becoming Astrid”) gives subtle shadings to “the wife is the last to know,” a wife who may have her own distractions. And Larsen, a co-star of Mikkelson and Vinterberg’s “The Hunt,” is impressive as a tough, bluff guy with a sentimental streak that a couple of beers and a whisky or two brings out.

In a year when much of the world has been stuck at home, day drinking, “Another Round” is a welcome shot of bitters with a warm cognac chaser, and a bracing/revealing renewal of a grand Danish partnership, Vinterberg and Mads his muse.

MPA Rating: unrated, alcohol abuse, sex, profanity

Cast: Mads Mikkelson, Thomas Bo Larsen, Maria Bonnevie, Magnus Millang, Lars Ranthe

Credits: Scripted and directed by Thomas Vinterberg. A Samuel Goldwyn release.’

Running time: 1:57

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