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I dare you to not be moved by Another Round, an existentialist film about day drinking

Mads Mikkelsen stars in an exhilarating movie that is far weightier than its premise implies.

A man drinks from a bottle of champagne, while a group of young people around him cheer.
Mads Mikkelsen in Another Round.
Samuel Goldwyn Films

I cannot overstate my love for Another Round, a movie about four middle-aged Danish men who are much more miserable than they’re willing to admit to themselves or to one another.

A great deal of the joy of watching the film is thanks to Mads Mikkelsen, whose face reminds me of a statue you might find carved into rock and resting on a museum pedestal. The actor always gives off an air of bigness and stockiness, whether he’s playing an action star or a lip-licking, serial-killing gastronome. That projection of heftiness is what makes scenes in which his Another Round character, a high school teacher, dances without inhibition so surprising, and so exhilarating to behold. He transforms into a fusion of balletic, soaring bird and pop-inflected hip-bumping rock star. Sometimes he punctuates his moves with a clap drawn from some folk dance. It’s irresistible. You might have to get up and dance too.

Mikkelsen did actually train as a gymnast and a dancer, and danced professionally for a decade before he began acting. So it’s great that director Thomas Vinterberg gives him an excuse to showcase these gifts in Another Round, a movie that on its surface is about the joys of day drinking. (There’s more to it than that.) That’s a perilous topic for many excellent reasons, but like another 2020 standout — the kinda-documentary Bloody Nose, Empty PocketsAnother Round is more interested in the people who drink than the drinking itself, preferring to love its subjects rather than praise or punish their choices.

Vinterberg treats the tale with a light hand, though he’s revealed in interviews that personal tragedy was an impetus for its story; his daughter Ida, who convinced him to make the film, was killed in a car accident four days into filming, and Vinterberg’s response was to rework the script to make it more life-affirming. Four men — Martin (Mikkelsen), Tommy (Thomas Bo Larsen), Nikolaj (Magnus Millang), and Peter (Lars Ranthe) — are teachers at the same school. They lead relatively stable lives, with houses and families and steady work. Too stable, in fact. Their students aren’t challenged by them. Martin’s marriage is full of friction. Things have gone stale for everyone.

One night, out celebrating Nikolaj’s 40th birthday as a quartet, they start to talk about the work of a psychiatrist, Finn Skårderud, who proposed the theory that the human body is naturally 0.05 percent deficient in alcohol. Could life be better if they make up the difference? They wonder: Should they test the theory?

They draw up a pseudoscientific plan, with hypotheses and research guidelines, chief among them that this is a day drinking experiment. No drinking after 8 pm, and none on the weekends. It’s purely an attempt to see if they become better at living the workaday parts of their lives when very mildly intoxicated.

So they start drinking at work, which, as they are teachers, is an objectively silly thing to do. But at first it feels smart. Instantly, Martin becomes a much more engaged educator; all four of the men start to feel like maybe “replacing” the deficiency is working. Watching, you’re in on the joke, whether or not they realize there’s a joke at all. The scientific experiment is cover for the personal pain they’re all feeling. But they’ve got to run it to its end before they start to understand what that means for them.

A man sits on a bench, looking into the distance.
Mads Mikkelsen in Another Round.
Samuel Goldwyn Films

Another Round’s premise seems certain to become a farce or a maudlin tragedy or a too-slick morality tale, but it never does. Instead of teetering on the brink of preachiness or platitudes, the movie feels vibrantly personal. It explores the exhilaration of a low buzz, of concocting a ridiculous plan with your friends and then embarking on that plan even though you’re too old for these shenanigans. And it digs into the reasons why adults do things they can’t even really explain to themselves — some combination of finding courage in unlikely places and needing to compensate for all the ways they feel they’ve failed themselves.

By the end, Another Round is a truly wonderful movie about trying to come to grips with life, anchored by terrific performances, infectious music, and a real understanding of the humming discontentment that all adults must learn to navigate in their own ways. It’s the sort of comedy fused with tragedy that may just best represent what life really is: a melancholy, glorious, slightly off-kilter dance.

Another Round premieres on digital on-demand services on December 18. Check the film’s website for more details.