(director/writer: Thomas Vinterberg; screenwriter: Tobias Lindholm; cinematographer: Sturla Brandth Grøvlen; editors: Anne Østerud/Janus Billeskov Jansen; music: Janus Billeskov Jansen; cast: Maria Bonnevie (Anika-Trine),  Mads Mikkelsen (Martin), Thomas Bo Larsen (Tommy), Magnus Millang (Nikolaj), Lars Ranthe (Peter), Helene Reingaard Neumann (Amalie), Susse Wold (Rektor); Runtime: 117; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Sisse Graum Jørgensen/Kasper Dissing; Zentropa/Nordisk Film/Netflix; 2020-Denmark, Sweden, Netherlands-in Danish & Swedish with English subtitles)

“The too clever film for its own good didn’t deliver everything it was supposed to.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The Danish writer-director Thomas Vinterberg (“The Celebration”/”The Commune”) wrote the promising story while living in Vienna where he was directing his own play.

Vinterberg playfully states that
either alcohol is a stimulus if taken in small amounts or is a harmful depressant if taken in high dosages (which sounds right to me). With his co-writer Tobias Lindholm, they create a semi-serious dramedy about drinking.

It follows up on the theory of the real-life psychiatrist, professor, author and Norwegian Olympics Committee member Finn Skarderud, who has controversially proposed that the normal blood alcohol level of human beings is at 0.05% percent, which is too low, and that people would be energized if they maintained a level of 0.10%.
Four middle-aged teachers–Martin (Mads Mikkelsen), Tommy (Thomas Bo Larsen), Nikolaj (Magnus Millang) and Peter (Lars Ranthe)–close friends, join together in a novel social experiment to keep their alcohol level higher than the normal 0.05% at all times because it will relieve stress and reduce tension. This life plan goes into play when all are going through a midlife crisis that has them bored with life and as teachers, and they decide to do something radical about it.

Martin has lost his passion for teaching history in a Copenhagen high school and his night-shift nurse wife Anika (Marie Bonnevie) finds him a bore. To prove the group’s point of how beneficial drinking can be, they all raise their alcohol level by drinking in private in school before classes start. When Martin follows his new drinking turn with vodka in the loo, his classroom has a livelier Martin and a better lesson than ever before; crestfallen soccer coach Tommy inspires his team to start winning; the psychology teacher Millang finds drinking improves his relationship with his wife Amalie (Helene Reingaard Neumann) and his large family; and the shy, single, music teacher, Peter, gets his choral students to sing in a more inspired way.

When the experiment
al teachers change their rules for the amount of drinking (altering its original premise by upping the amount taken), the results take a backward turn. It then turns into a cautionary character study tale, as it reverts back to the status quo and gives us no clear answer to the professor’s theory. To me, that seems like a cop out and the too clever film for its own good didn’t deliver everything it was supposed to. But the Mads Mikkelsen performance is exhilarating and the film has a sense of academia intelligence. The filmmaker seems to have a blast as he goes off as to which world leaders such as Churchill, FDR, Hemingway, Hitler and U.S. Grant were the better leaders, the drinkers or the non-drinkers.