In Thomas Vinterberg’s new film “Another Round,” four Danish men, all schoolteachers, embark on a pseudoscientific quest: to see if drinking daily will pull them out of their midlife slumps. If you don’t know Vinterberg’s work, this might sound like the premise of a dumb men-being-boys comedy à la “The Hangover.” If you’re familiar with the Danish director’s films, you might expect something dark and satirical — like “The Celebration” or “The Hunt,” which wryly expose the nasty undercurrents of bourgeois existence. Middle-class lives do come unspooling in “Another Round,” but this odd little film turns out to be neither farce nor moralistic provocation. It’s a sweet, strangely modest tragicomedy about the pleasures of (mostly banal) excess.
The film is shot through with an empathy that holds it back from cartoonishness. Mads Mikkelsen plays Martin, a dead-eyed history teacher whose marriage and job are on the brink of crumbling. He and his buddies Tommy (Thomas Bo Larsen), Peter (Lars Ranthe) and Nikolaj (Magnus Millang) are jaded middle-aged men, but they’re also capable of remarkable tenderness. When Martin tears up during dinner, the other three begin shimmying awkwardly at the restaurant, reminding their friend of his youthful days as a jazz ballet dancer. The next morning, Martin decides to test a hypothesis floated by Nikolaj: that the body’s natural alcohol content is a couple drinks too low. He takes a swig of vodka before class, and suddenly, the listless teacher of previous scenes turns into an electric raconteur, regaling his students with tales of Winston Churchill’s alcoholism.
Soon, all four friends are sneaking sips and shots in school and at home, formalizing their day-drinking as an experiment with firm parameters — including a Hemingway-inspired 8 p.m. curfew. It’s all a bit silly, and “Another Round” never really feels tethered to reality: The characters’ magical liquor-induced transformations are hard to believe, and their eventual downfalls too broadly etched. But Vinterberg’s delicate, grounded direction and the actors’ wonderfully loose performances insist upon authenticity, creating a tonal mishmash that’s endearingly absurd. Vinterberg first became known in the 1990s as a founder of the Dogme 95 collective alongside Lars Von Trier. Though “Another Round” strays far from that collective’s tenets of austere naturalism (the movie’s expert uses of soundtrack music are a Dogme no-no), something of that aesthetic’s agile minimalism finds its way into the film — particularly in the unencumbered way in which Sturla Brandth Grovlen’s camera moves through space.
Vinterberg also makes excellent use of Mikkelsen’s own past as a dancer, mining the incongruously fluid body language of a tall, thickset man with a jaw that seems carved out of lead. In an early visual gag, Martin staggers through the school staff room drunk, as his fellow teachers watch in puzzlement. Just as you think he’s gotten away with it, he slams into the wall on his way out with a loud thunk. The buoyancy of “Another Round” comes from these moments of unpredictability, when the characters teeter on the precipice of either ecstasy or injury. That feeling of indeterminacy is, of course, the very allure of an alcoholic buzz. Despite a few didactic lines of dialogue about Danish drinking culture, “Another Round” mostly shimmies its way out of moral or social questions. The film ends literally midair, suspending us in the perilous thrill of moments in which anything seems possible.
Not rated. In Danish, with subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 57 minutes. In theaters. Please consult the guidelines outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention before watching movies inside theaters.