When it comes to dealing with drinking on screen, films tend to be in one of two categories: grim-faced portrayals of the perils of alcoholism, or merrily tipsy comedies in which booze yields a chain of hijinks. It’s by falling precisely halfway between these two barstools that Thomas Vinterberg’s wonderful, Oscar-winning Another Round – now out on general VOD, and from Monday on DVD and Blu-ray – stands out. It’s that rare film that equally conveys both the joys and dangers of drinking, and never feels glib or sanctimonious in the process.
Much of this is down to a tremendous performance by Mads Mikkelsen as midlife-restless high school teacher Martin, attempting to reinvigorate his stagnant routine with an experiment in alcoholic microdosing – meticulously maintaining a consistently moderate blood alcohol level – and initially finding life a little brighter and faster for it. Then, well, things change. Martin undertakes the project with a group of colleagues who manage it with varying degrees of control. As a study in the intimacies and limitations of male friendship, it’s alternately raucous and deeply moving. Vinterberg is most perceptive on how drinking binds people and pries them apart; the film leaves you sober and a little giddy at once.
Hong Sang-soo might be the great booze chronicler of modern cinema
It’s the British, really, who have cornered the market in good-time drinking films, beginning with the ever-cheering Ealing comedy Whisky Galore! (BFI Player) in 1949. This caper involving, per its title, a sudden windfall of the amber stuff on a Scottish isle gone dry through rationing is all jolliness and no guilt. It was unmemorably remade a few years ago, but has a better modern spiritual counterpart in The Angels’ Share (2012; Google Play), one of Ken Loach’s rare lighter diversions, in which a trip to a whisky distillery is one deadbeat dad’s unlikely cue to build a better life. Down to its final Proclaimers needle-drop, it’s broad, hopeful stuff. Moving south, and switching from whisky to beer, Edgar Wright channelled British binge-drinking culture into the jovial fantasy of The World’s End (2013; Amazon), in which an aggressive alien invasion goes up against the equal determination of lads on a pub crawl: which is the bigger threat?
‘A sort of hoppier Sideways’: Olivia Wilde and Jake Johnson in Drinking Buddies. Photograph: Burn Later Prods/Kobal/Shutterstock
I’ve written before about the Korean director Hong Sang-soo, who might be the great booze chronicler of modern cinema. Soju, drunk in copious amounts, tends to play a critical role in his wry human comedies. In his ingenious, double-backing boy-meets-girl study Right Now, Wrong Then (2015; Amazon), a soju binge is the climax that unlocks all the film’s tricks and revelations. In Joe Swanberg’s mellow, winning American indie Drinking Buddies (2013; Chili), for two co-workers in a hipster craft brewery, casual beers are the currency by which friendships turn to romances and estrangements and back again. Tonally, it’s sort of a hoppier answer to Sideways (Disney+), Alexander Payne’s wine-fuelled portrait of middle-aged male insecurity and companionship, which was praised to the skies in 2004 but feels less fashionable these days. (Its diehard fans may be curious to investigate the 2010 Japanese remake, pleasingly titled Saidoweizu and on Amazon.)
Ray Milland and Howard Da Silva in Billy Wilder’s The Lost Weekend (1945). Photograph: Paramount/Kobal/Shutterstock
As for the more severe consequences of alcoholism, Hollywood has a history of hitting hard. Seen as shocking in 1945, when it ruled the Oscars, Billy Wilder’s The Lost Weekend (Amazon) immersed viewers in the downward spiral of a dipsomaniac writer (Ray Milland). It no longer stuns, but it remains impressively grimy, at least until its none-too-convincing closing note of redemption. Fifty years later, Nicolas Cage won a hard-earned Oscar as an alcoholic screenwriter – why us writers always come in for this treatment, I couldn’t possibly say – in Mike Figgis’s brilliantly bleak Leaving Las Vegas (Amazon), which left us no such window of hope.
But there may be no more elegiac film about drinking in American cinema than Bill and Turner Ross’s recent, semi-performed hybrid documentary Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets (BFI Player), which takes in a whole Las Vegas dive bar’s worth of bottle-bound patrons, over the course of the ailing establishment’s last night of business. It drags us through its fair share of sticky-floored squalor, but the sense of community forged by alcohol is what gleams through.
Also new on streaming and DVD
In the Heights
This sprightly film version of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s pre-Hamilton Broadway hit was hyped as one of the summer’s big back-to-the-cinema hopes, before weak box office and heated colourism debates deflated the balloon. But it’s still bright, likable entertainment, performed with verve: if only the songs were a little more memorable.
Corey Hawkins and Leslie Grace in In the Heights. Photograph: Macall Polay/AP
Now out on DVD/Blu-ray as well as major streaming outlets, Harry Macqueen’s heartbreaking autumnal love story is another fine addition to the recent wave of dementia-focused narratives, gorgeously performed by Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci as a couple taking their last holiday together under the shadow of the condition.
You’d think any film teaming Melissa McCarthy, Chris O’Dowd and Kevin Kline might be a lively comedy, but alas: they’ve inexplicably joined forces for a drippy grief drama, laden with platitudes and clanking metaphors, in which McCarthy’s mourning for her lost child is broken up by her whimsical interactions with a plucky garden bird. Fly on by.
With bizarro French auteur Quentin Dupieux’s latest, Mandibles, in cinemas, you can now catch up with his 2019 film on streaming. This deranged, deadpan tale of a drifter whose fixation with acquiring particular leather attire leads him into murder is made by Jean Dujardin’s madly committed turn: the best thing he’s done since winning that Oscar a decade ago for The Artist.
The restoration of Joseph Losey and Harold Pinter’s enduringly creepy, close-to-the-phone 1963 psychodrama of British class conflict and queer social tension had a cinema outing earlier this month and now gets a smart Blu-ray release. Even without the recent surface polish, it’s aged very well indeed.