Another Round is built around a premise many of us have entertained at least once: With all the stressors of modern life–bills, taxes, 24-hour news, climate change, a freaking pandemic–maybe we’d be better off if we experienced it all with a slight buzz. Not…wasted, mind you. There’s no slurring or staggering at the onset of this experiment. No, Another Round posits that our world might be a better, brighter, and more fun place if an El Presidente margarita were always within arm’s reach. And I’ve had days where nothing seems wrong with that logic. The problem with such a thought isn’t the journey, but the destination.
For Martin (Mads Mikkelsen), his journey begins somewhere in the doldrums of middle age. He’s bored in his job teaching history to groggy teenagers. He’s grown alienated from his wife (Maria Bonnevie) and sons, who regard him as another piece of furniture around the house. When we first meet Martin, he’s frustrated, depressed, but hungry. He heads out to a birthday dinner, where all the partygoers are men who are more or less within his own demographic. It’s there, in this subdued revelry, that the tempting idea gets proffered.
It sounds harmless enough: Finn Skårderud, a renowned scientist, theorizes that humans function optimally with a blood alcohol level of .05. If you’re sober, you’re living with a deficit. .05 is still legal to drive in most places, but it’s also enough to ensure that a person is, you know, feelin’ gr??vy. So, the guys decide to run with this idea. They stow flasks at work and sneak a few nips when nobody’s watching. Portable breathalyzers help keep everybody between the lines.
The initial results are tantalizing. Martin’s lectures come alive, as he informs his class that FDR inhaled martinis and Ulysses S. Grant traveled with bourbon by the barrel. All those guys did was change history. And Hitler? He drank in moderation. Meanwhile, Martin’s bros also undergo a boozy renaissance: Tommy (Thomas Bo Larsen) finds a new gear to motivate his young soccer players. Nikolaj (Magnus Millang) inspires the school choir to sing in perfect harmony. Peter (Lars Ranthe) goes the extra mile to prepare his psych students for graduate school.
Of course, all this promise isn’t meant to last. I worked in the alcohol industry for a long time, and I can confidently tell you that no one plans on becoming a shambling wreck. It just happens. The guys soon decide their potential has plateaued at .05, and .1 has a nice ring to it. A few secret swigs quickly transforms into many unsubtle glugs. They sweat and slur their way through the day. Students and teachers begin to shoot them suspicious looks.
Eventually, even that level of sauciness won’t do. Our heroes take a look at Hemingway, Churchill, and Tchaikovsky and conclude there must be some value in drinking to the edge of oblivion. This leads to hedonistic abandon, wherein Martin and his buddies sing, stumble, and barf their way through a protracted bender. I’ll confess that I’ve been this lit a verrrry few times in my life, but I’ve done it enough to cringe my way through these scenes. Needless to say, such irresponsibility will have dire and permanent consequences for everyone involved.
Much of the comedy and tragedy of Another Round is guided by strong performances. Mikkelsen is the most recognizable face, and he supplies Martin with an instant charm. It’s always refreshing to see an actor cast against type, and that’s definitely the case here. His Martin is likable, intelligent, but wounded. The players who round out his social circle convey the bottled frustration of men in grip of spiritual wanderlust: They still have much to give, but no outlet from which to give it. Finally, Bonnevie gives humanity to Anika’s exhaustion. She’s waited years for Martin to figure it all out. She won’t sit around much longer.
Another Round nails how tricky it is to be a social drunk: Think of Butch and Sundance on the edge of a cliff, staring at the jagged rocks below. Everybody’s your buddy at the bar, when there are shots to be had and songs to be sung. That’s the great thing about .05, or even .1–life is a big ol’ party. And while getting to that level of comfortable numbness is easy, staying there is the tricky bit. It’s a long fall, and the fall can definitely kill ya.
117 min. NR. Hulu.