movie review

There’s No Better Movie Ending in 2020 Than Mads Mikkelsen Dancing in Another Round

On the bittersweet pleasures of watching Thomas Vinterberg’s day-drinking dramedy. Photo: Samuel Goldwyn Films

This is an ode to the best movie ending of the year, which involves a Champagne-soaked celebration along the Copenhagen waterfront. It should probably involve a spoiler warning, too, though that makes Another Round, the Thomas Vinterberg comedy to which it belongs, sound like the kind of thing that lends itself to being spoiled when it’s really not. Another Round — or, as it’s more catchily titled in its native Danish, Druk — a character study hiding behind an outrageous premise that involves four friends, all middle-aged men who teach at a local high school, embarking on a pseudoscientific exploration of the benefits of day-drinking. It takes a few turns, but if there’s a surprise to be preserved, it’s only one that involves how well the finale turns out to have been set up. The delight of the exuberantly bittersweet closing sequence comes from the way it fulfills a promise the audience doesn’t realize, until that point, has been made.

In the inevitable American remake of Another Round, someone like Will Ferrell will play the main character, Martin — a history teacher and father of two whose marriage has atrophied — and there will be more high jinks and less death, and the ending will play as simply funny. But Vinterberg’s film stars Mads Mikkelsen, who makes the most of the masklike qualities his face can have, mobile eyes above the still crests of cheekbones, playing Martin as someone often lost inside himself, even as he sleepwalks through delivering lessons and having dinner with his family. Mikkelsen is a former dancer, though he rarely gets a chance to show off his skills in that arena onscreen, and Martin, we learn in an offhand mention, trained in jazz ballet when he was younger, though he doesn’t do it anymore. He doesn’t do much of anything anymore. Adrift at a dinner celebrating his colleague Nikolaj’s (Magnus Millang) 40th birthday, he finds himself in unexpected tears he can barely explain. “I don’t know how I ended up like this,” he confesses, as his friends try to cheer him up by talking about the past.

Another Round is, indisputably, a midlife-crisis movie, but Vinterberg leans into the melancholy aspects of feeling that the most exciting time in your life is behind you, rather than the predictable ones. Martin, in particular, is someone who’s been living with depression for so long he doesn’t register the degree to which numbness has become his new normal. He finds in tired father of three Nikolaj, uptight Peter (Lars Ranthe), and divorcé Tommy (Thomas Bo Larsen) some all-too-eager co-conspirators who seize on a claim by Norwegian psychiatrist Finn Skårderud that humans are born with a .05 percent alcohol deficiency, and they set out to discover whether maintaining a level of controlled intoxication could actually improve their professional and personal lives. It’s a transparent excuse to drink, together and alone, and for a while, delightfully and hilariously, it works. Then it really, really doesn’t. These men may teach a group of rowdy teenagers who spend their free time getting trashed, but they aren’t kids anymore themselves. When Martin’s former hobby is brought up by Peter, who unsuccessfully urges him to show off his old skills, it’s an idea that’s so distant from who the man is now that it feels like a joke.

And yet, while Mikkelsen typically gives the character a stiffness, moving as though he had long ago lost feeling in his extremities, Martin moves differently after a few drinks. He becomes limber in a way that makes the mentions of jazz ballet feel a little less unlikely. When he arrives at work with a blood alcohol level of .1 percent, he’s right between wobbly and lithe, unsteady on his feet but able to gracefully twirl around co-workers and countertops until he misjudges and walks smack into a doorway. Another Round is never rosy about the healthiness of what its characters are doing, though it refuses to end with a broad condemnation of booze either. In those early dabblings with drinking, you can see that self-medicating with a few morning vodka-sodas really does help get Martin out of his own head. During the quartet’s big nights out, previous rules be damned, he’s loose and grinning while roughhousing outside or standing on a piano at a bar while everyone chants for him to dance, all cautious self-consciousness gone, as though the intervening years had briefly vanished.

But it’s not a state anyone can live in forever, and eventually the venture starts destroying its participants’ lives — permanently, in Tommy’s case. It’s there, in the aftermath of Tommy’s death, that Another Round reaches its high point, once Martin, Nikolaj, and Peter have gathered to toast their late friend and then have a run-in with their students, who are out celebrating their graduation. There, in the bright afternoon sun, the remaining trio take a break from mourning to bask, secondhand, in the blissful sensation of having everything ahead of you. As they accept shots and bottles of wine and hugs, the song with which the film began, a perfectly terrible-wonderful Euro club anthem called “What a Life,” from Danish pop group Scarlet Pleasure, starts up. And, wonder of wonders, Martin finally, finally allows himself to be talked into dancing.

He starts off slow, running through a few steps with Peter, and then he just gives into it, surrendering to a loose-limbed freestyle that has him pushing off benches and punching the air. Some of his moves are silly, but others are just good, that muscle memory there to be called on as he leaps off the sides of automobiles and turns a spontaneous cartwheel across the pavement. It’s joyful and it’s genuinely impressive — proof that he may not be the same Martin of a dozen years ago, but those feelings and experiences aren’t lost to him, even if his horizons aren’t as expansive as they used to be. When he runs through the spray of shaken Champagne bottles, he flings his arms out and his head back like a runner crossing the finish line, though the feeling is not of a race being over but one that keeps stretching forward, with plenty of time left, still, for the unexpected. Another Round has no interest in indulging its characters’ self-pity or portraying them as interested in reclaiming lost youth, instead treating their malaise with an openhearted earnestness. And in that closing sequence, it offers an ecstatic reminder that someone may not still think of himself as a dancer, but that doesn’t mean he’s forgotten how to dance.

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