By Leah Greenblatt
December 02, 2020 at 11:49 AM EST
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Credit: Samuel Goldwyn Films

The original Danish title of Another Round is Druk, and it doesn’t take Rosetta Stone to sense how much more succinctly that captures the spirit of Thomas Vinterberg’s deeply Scandanavian dark comedy — an intoxicated tale of midlife angst and catharsis and better living through Aquavit.

History teacher Martin (Mads Mikkelsen) has, at least on the surface, a nice life — lovely wife, two sons, haute-Ikea home — and a terminal case of ennui. There’s hardly any joy or connection left for him in daily routines, and even his students can sense it; his lesson plans sound like the distracted dronings of a broken Wikipedia. So when a coworker at his Copenhagen high school floats the theory that they all just might have been born with a blood alcohol level .05% too low, he and two other instructors decide to approach drinking as a sort of freeform mental-health experiment.

To keep it professional they will imbibe, it’s decided, like Hemingway, “Never after 8 p.m. or on the weekends.” Suddenly, with a little Stoli for breakfast, Nikolaj (Magnus Millang) no longer feels so stymied by the demands of his wife and children, Tommy (Thomas Bo Larsen) is coaching his ragtag youth soccer club to victory, and choir director Peter (Lars Ranthe) is making a bunch of hormonal teenagers sing like Benedictine angels.

For Martin too, it’s a revelation: His lectures are electrified, his checked-out spouse (Maria Bonnevie) and kids reconnect, and the world, it seems, comes in colors again. But will life get even sweeter, Nikolaj wonders, if they bump their intake up to .08, .12, or beyond? You may think you know which side vaunted writer-director Vinterberg (The Celebration, Far From the Madding Crowd) will land on, but his storyline — which veers tipsily between satire, wish fulfillment, and minor-key tragedy —  rarely fits inside the neat contours of Hollywood moralism.

Are there consequences for showing up to work eight absinthe-and-sodas in, or for surreptitiously offering a student a shot of vodka to get through an exam? Maybe! And maybe not. Though Vinterberg doesn’t dismiss some of the very real consequences of his characters’ 180-proof experiment, it often falls on the actors to fill in the finer lines his antic script (cowritten with Tobias Lindholm) dodges or leaps over. In that task he has no one better than Mikkelsen, whose sharp-planed bones and mournful gaze seem to contain multitudes, even in repose. (The pair's last collaboration, 2012's The Hunt, landed them both multiple prizes at Cannes and abroad.)

Now a bona fide industry player between TV’s Hannibal and his roles in Bond movies and Marvel (and soon, Fantastic Beasts), Mikkelsen has become perhaps Denmark’s most familiar face Stateside over the past decade. But he still feels most in his skin in roles like these, and in Round’s final ecstatic scene, the actor does what only true stars seem able to: Take the silly or messy or improbable, and make it fly. Grade: B

Another Round is in limited theaters Friday and on demand Dec. 18.

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