Thomas Vinterberg’s Another Round has been heaped with awards: an Oscar, a Bafta, it swept the European Film Awards. And it has received rave reviews everywhere. I must now work out, I suppose, why I found it such a hard, boring, unrewarding, annoying slog. I did have a stern talk with myself, and even watched it again, but with the same result. I suppose your enjoyment may depend on how much time you might wish to spend with drunk middle-aged men who imagine they are being interesting. Or have you been trapped at parties by too many of them down the years?
The film is co-written by Vinterberg and Tobias Lindholm, and directed by Vinterberg, whose Festen (1998) hasn’t ever budged from my top ten films of all time. It is set in Denmark and stars Mads Mikkelsen, and his compelling cheekbones, as Martin, a depressed, closed-down history teacher who, as we see at the outset, sleepwalks through delivering his lessons and sleepwalks through dinner with his wife and children. He has three best friends — Nicolaj (Magnus Millang), Tommy (Thomas Bo Larsen), Peter (Lars Ranthe) — who are also discontented teachers unable to cope with no longer being young and full of promise. They all get roaringly drunk at a 40th birthday dinner for Nicolaj even if, at first, Martin, who isn’t much of a drinker, sips water. But his friends urge him on. It’s: ‘Martin, come on, Russia was built by people who drank vodka!’ And: ‘We’ll have a really good bottle of wine for Martin!’
It’s at this dinner that Nicolaj puts forward the theory of real-life Norwegian psychiatrist Finn Skarderud who has said that humans are born ‘alcohol-depleted’ and should maintain an intoxication level of 0.05 per cent if they wish to become open, creative, and feel alive. In short: we’d all be better off if we went through life slightly drunk. The four decide to give that a go. It’ll be exciting, they say. They agree to take notes so they can write ‘a brilliant psychological essay’ about it. About what? Drinking during the day? If you go down my local park you’ll find lots of fellas on the benches who’ll tell you what’s that like without ever having heard of Skarderud. I would also add that, having looked up the theory, Skarderud only posits it so as to immediately shoot it down. This is a wilful misinterpretation, which may explain why the premise is so hard to buy. And why you may be asking yourself: why should I be at all interested in these annoyingly stupid men?
They start to sneak vodka into school and, initially, it works. They all become better, even inspirational teachers, à la Dead Poets Society. Peter is the music teacher and now his choir are singing with heart and passion. Martin’s students lap up his lessons on Hemingway and Churchill. Vinterberg has said he wanted to make a film that was ‘a celebration’ of alcohol, and ‘a tribute’ to alcohol and all the historical figures who ‘accomplished great things’ but ‘were drunk all time’. (Hence Hemingway and Churchill, but what about Darwin and Einstein, who were teetotal?) Vinterberg paints himself into a corner because he knows he can’t not acknowledge that alcohol also destroys families and lives. (Oh dear; poor Tommy.)
The film is well directed. It is well acted. Mikkelsen is always as compelling as his cheekbones. But it’s so muddled in its thinking — alcohol is good; no, it’s bad… but good — that it ends up with nothing of value to say. In fact, there is little here that Homer Simpson didn’t nail when he described alcohol as: ‘The cause of, and solution, to all life’s problems.’ Meanwhile, if I’ve made it sound as if I’m no fun at parties, let me not correct you on that: I’m no fun at all. I’d avoid me like the plague.