Directed by Thomas Vinterberg | Written by Vinterberg and Tobias Lindholm | 115 min
After he set the world alight with The Celebration (Festen) and as a shining light of the Dogme95 movement, Danish auteur Vinterberg spent a few years in the cinematic hinterlands with films that people didn’t like (It’s All About Love, Dear Wendy both have dire Rotten Tomatoes scores) or didn’t see (Submarino), but he made a major comeback with The Hunt, which screened at the 2012 Atlantic Film Festival. Since then he’s found more success with films like The Commune and Far From The Madding Crowd, though maybe not so much with his Netflix nautical thriller, The Command.
His return to Denmark for this newest comedy/drama presents as midlife crisis movie. Four 40-something pals, all teachers, get together for one of their birthdays. They seem to be doing well, but for Martin (Mads Mikkelsen), whose marriage isn’t in the best shape, and he’s distant from his teenaged children. He teaches high school history, but not with much enthusiasm. One of his three buddies (Thomas Bo Larsen, Lars Ranthe, and Magnus Millang) hatches a crackpot idea, inspired by something he read, that people have a deficit of alcohol in their blood — that a 0.5% blood alcohol level gives people added confidence. Martin points out many great men enjoyed a good tipple.
And right in the middle of this we get a hilarious collection of clips of world leaders, all appearing more than a little drunk.
So, they give it a go, imbibing through the day. It sounds like a really stupid, but they all experience distinct improvement in the performance of their lives. More happiness. It’s almost a religious conversion, scored to The Meters’ “Cissy Strut.”
How could this possibly go wrong?
This is as described, the midlife crisis movie, but it’s got a few unexpected twists and turns, marinated in dark humour. I guess laughing at drunk behaviour was once upon a time a comedy wellspring, and there’s some of that here, but also the knife edge of tension. You know these guys are going to go too far, it’s just a question of when. It’s pretty grim when it happens, but it forces at least a couple of these friends to examine what’s really wrong in their lives. For Martin it’s got a lot to do with his relationship with his wife, Annika (Maria Bonnevie). Surprisingly, it doesn’t result in them turning on each other.
The film is rooted by the performances, which are solid all around, and the lovely interiors. But the sadness of middle-aged dudes is a subject that’s had plenty of time and celluloid devoted to it. This specifically Danish take is warm and welcome, if not entirely original, and it telegraphs both its triumphs and tragedies. Enjoy the performances — Mikkelsen is a master of understatement — and soak up the lesson: Booze is a cultural inheritance, for better and frequently worse.