Another Round (M18)
Starring Mads Mikkelsen, Thomas Bo Larsen, Magnus Millang
Directed by Thomas Vinterberg
Four good pals go on an alcohol binge to reach their maximum inspirational potential to put a much-needed fizz back into their humdrum midlife crises.
Nope, not Trainspotting. It’s Trainswigging here in this terrifically intoxicating gem of a movie.
The guys getting stoned aren’t Scottish bums. They’re four otherwise responsible middle-aged high school teachers in Denmark who somehow decide to partake in a peculiarly tipsy experiment. They pump up their creative juices with vodka, wine, champagne and assorted potions during daytime working hours as though they’re race cars fired up by daily doses of fast-and-furious fuel.
They’re conspiring to verify a quaint theory by a Norwegian psychiatrist about humans being born with a blood alcohol content (BAC) deficiency that’s a tad too low — 0.05 per cent — for optimal living. Hence, they plot to drink over that magical threshold to function at a supposedly brilliant peak level the way famous boozers Ernest Hemingway wrote classics and Winston Churchill won a World War while apparently being drunk.
Sounds like a half-a**ed QAnon-style notion. But hey, somebody has got to prove it, right?
So with bottles hidden in bags or stashed in a school gym store and breathalysers to measure their zonked-out level, the foursome wobble and wing it in their classrooms conducting lessons when, a few naughty swigs later, they become “more relaxed, poised, musical, open and more courageous”.
“I haven't felt this good in ages, something is happening,” goes the happy consensus. Which we know is an ominous prelude to bad and ultimately tragic things coming when meddling with such seriously addictive demon brew.
Danish acting legend Mads Mikkelsen leads the secretively woozy group as history teacher Martin in this superbly acted and innately humane flick that won this year's Best International Feature Film Oscar. It’s simply compelling for being so good about so offbeat a subject that hasn’t been handled so well since 2004’s wine-filled Sideways.
Man, if you crave a drink during a show, this would be it. FYI, these actors look monumentally drunk going from sing-song dazed to blackout wasted. But incredibly, they’re just acting stoned, having been put through a booze boot camp to learn how to simulate those groggy actions. A round of Best Drunk Oscars for these dudes, please.
Director/co-writer Thomas Vinterberg (The Hunt, Far From the Madding Crowd) based this perfectly tasty drama on his own play. Which is something that could only come out of a rabid Scandinavian alcohol culture where in the opening scene, there’s a traditional ‘Lake Race’ with teenagers running and consuming beer while trying not to throw up.
“This entire country drinks like maniacs anyway,” charges Anika (Maria Bonnevie), Martin’s largely disappointed wife who teeters on the verge of dumping her hubby because he’s so hemmed-up sad and distant when he’s trapped in his sober world. Which, by the way, is a great Mads trademark.
Can we blame the spouses here? Their men, in disgusting utter inebriation, wet the bed, stumble at the stairs, jump into a lake and generally behave like jerks in supermarts and pubs while convincing themselves, in the interest of science, that they’re not alcoholics. “We decide when we want to drink, an alcoholic can't help himself,” they insist. Yeah, right.
It’s bravado that comes from all of them hitting liberated personal highs while being actually very high.
Martin, at first alarming his students with his confused teaching, rouses them up by suddenly becoming a star tutor. Football coach Tommy (Thomas Bo Larsen) gets his squad of pint-sized kids humming like a Euro 2020 team. Music instructor Peter (Lars Ranthe) and psychology teacher Nikolaj (Magnus Millang) turn similarly into cathartically reborn educators too.
These scenes of instant transformation inside their school are the film’s best. As are the ones where the experiment inevitably gets out of control and the group’s disintegration happens in front of stoic colleagues too shocked and polite to react in the teachers' common room. “Maybe we should have a zero-alcohol policy for the next semester,” the befuddled school principal proffers funnily in the understatement of the year.
The film, though, does let one great opportunity slip by when it refrains from staging any sequences where the Gang Of Four melts down comprehensively in front of their students. Presumably because it would complicate the overall casually light-headed tone of the whole thing.
For director Vinterberg cleverly keeps everything tight, close and personal at the human level here. With none more up close and personal than Marvellous Mads anchoring the giddiness as its elusive but aware Buddha Of Booze.
“You are fired up and calm at the same time,” someone says to Martin, explaining his superpower of being wise while wasted as he surveys the charm and harm of alcohol.
Another Round, full of fine meaningful moments, is a great affirmation of the spirit.
Of both the human and the liquor kind. (4.5/5 stars)
Photo: TPG News/Click Photos