A short while ago, a friend of mine suggested that we all have something like a quota of major contemporary world cinema directors that we can love, and once we've hit capacity, we're not going to be able to get really excited anybody else. He was of course being facetious, but I take comfort in the idea anyway, because it makes me feel a bit less guilty about the fact that I just cannot do anything with the films of Thomas Vinterberg. The director of 1998's The Celebration, one of the consensus masterpieces of 1990s art cinema, has yet to make a film that does anything other than ricochet right across the surface of my brain while I'm watching it, and the trend continues with Another Round, a dramedy about alcohol abuse that I am prepared to declare is extremely fine. The most-fine Vinterberg film that I've seen, even.

This is in part because it's the first Vinterberg film that I've seen which is anything other than an extravagantly miserable trudge through abuse and suffering. It's still not altogether happy - it's Danish, after all - but it is, nominally, and often even in practice, a comedy, and while it has its share of ambiguous moments, there are scenes that are actively engaged with the idea that some of the things we humans do are fun and give us joy and pleasure.

Another Round concerns four middle-aged friends and colleagues, all high school teachers, who are bored and feeling stalled out in life: Martin (Mads Mikkelsen, who also worked with Vinterberg in the aggressively bleak The Hunt from 2012), Tommy (Thomas Bo Larsen), Nikolaj (Magnus Millang), and Peter (Lars Ranthe). At Nikolaj's 40th birthday party, talk turns to the oddball theories of psychiatrist Finn Skårderud, who has proposed that human brains are maximally efficient at 0.05% blood alcohol content. Looking to limber their own brains up, the men agree to a long-term experiment: through carefully monitored day drinking, they will all maintain exactly that BAC as perpetually as can be managed. And wouldn't you know, it actually does work pretty damn well for all of them, except that as they grow accustomed to a slight buzz, it becomes harder and harder to be satisfied with that, and so they start pushing the limits, and that's where problems start to creep in, particularly the problem that alcohol is, after all, addictive.

It's not an addiction drama exactly, though. It's really not trying to stake a claim on any theme, in fact. If I were to sum up the message of Another Round, it would be that being intoxicated is liberating and makes you happy, except when it's dangerous and makes you aggressive or depressed. Which is a pretty mealy-mouthed position to argue for, though again, the film isn't really arguing. It's simply letting Martin and his friends go on this weird little adventure, and experience whatever they're going to experience along the way, leading up to an ending sequence (the second-best part of the film) that is both celebratory in how it allows Mikkelsen, one of our more reliably dour actors, to express radiant energy of being in the moment, while also framing him in a way that leaves open the possibility that we're watching desperation rather than joy, and that there's a desire for oblivion buried inside the celebration of life.

It helps to know that Another Round started out as a slightly different movie before Vinterberg's 19-year-old daughter, who helped him devise the idea and was going to play a small role in the film, died in a car accident right as the production started. That redirected the filmmaker's energies n the direction of making something relatively uplifting and dedicated to the places we find joy in life, and I wonder if that explains why the film feels a little ambivalent. Vinterberg's storytelling instincts point him towards the idea that this can't end well, and sure enough, the film's last third starts bringing in horrible problems. But the film never really commits to this development, and it leads to some tonal dithering as it tries to decide just how bleak it wants to be. Certainly, the fun and funny parts are what work the best and feel the most coherent; the film peaks during a montage of world leaders being visibly drunk as they try to go about the business of state, assembled and scored with a nice little bounce that makes it clear that in the film's eyes this dereliction of duty makes them more human and sympathetic than dangerous and unpredictable. And that applies to pretty much all of the stand-out scenes within the film's actual story, where Mikkelsen's giddy, buzzed enthusiasm makes it easier for him to inspire his bored students, for example.

It's all pleasant enough, though fairly simple and never surprising; once the film's plot starts, it goes exactly where one imagines, in broad sweep if not in the particulars of every single scene. The point, of course, is not its piercing insight into alcoholism nor its psychological representations (it's observations about alcoholism are banal, and its characters surprisingly vague), but its loose, limber shagginess, a good match for Vinterberg's customary aesthetic of handheld cameras and simple lighting set-ups, executed by cinematographer Sturla Brandth Grøven capably but with little distinction. Another Round is a relaxed film, gratifyingly so for a work by a filmmaker of Vinterberg's severity, and while to my view, this relaxation tends to leave the story as a somewhat untethered afterthought, I can appreciate the reasons another viewer might find it all terribly likable and recognisable, as I gather a great many viewers have. It just seems to me that the generous wobbliness of it lacks a center: a genuine opinion on the subject, or a real attempt to explore who these men are, rather than merely casting them all as different flavors of a by-the-books midlife crisis. Mikkelsen seems invested in what he's doing more than he's been in awhile, and the rest of the cast is all very good at the casual hang-out vibe of the first, longer chunk of the film (they are variably strong in negotiating the turn towards darker material), and it takes some careful doing to get that feeling of people being natural and unforced around each other. But I never quite got the sense that Another Round moved beyond "here are some dudes", and that simply wasn't doing it for me.