Another Round

Another Round ★★★

Martin is stuck in a rut. At home, his relationship with his wife has become practical and administrative rather than romantic, more about the menial day-to-day organization of their lives than anything to do with sex or love. At the high school where he teaches, his students reflect his disengagement back at him, staring blankly up at the chalkboard or out the window, struggling to stay awake while he drily recites historical facts. One of the significant early events of the film's first act is a friend's 40th birthday, which seems to indicate midlife crisis territory, but whatever the cause, Martin does not seem to be present for his own life. He's checked out.

The specificity of Martin's struggle and its resolution speaks to an anxiety I have about my own life and work. I wanted to be a teacher for many years. It started with helping my sister understand Shakespeare, and while I've mostly given up on the goal of becoming a traditional school teacher, I still feel that drive to teach, which is essentially what I'm doing right here, right now. But all too often I feel like Martin, reciting historical facts that interest me but without the framework or structure to make my writing engaging. I don't feel emotionally checked out the way that Martin does, but I feel something of that same creative disconnect, like maybe my work contains interesting information but my writing is too dry to make that information accessible or enjoyable. I see writers that are more successful than I am, and I wonder if I'm doing something wrong, if I'm just boring, if I'm like Martin.

To be a bit overly reductive about it, Martin solves his problems with alcohol and friendship. He and his pals embark on an experiment to test the hypothesis that constant low-levels of intoxication improve general human functionality, and whether it's the booze or the camaraderie or both, Martin and his buddies start doing better at home and in school. Excited and encouraged by their success, they push things too far, play with dangerously high concentrations of blood alcohol, harm themselves, their families, and their loved ones, and border on addictive behavior and alcoholism.

Like the film, I have a complicated relationship with alcohol, but fortunately for me not as damaging a history. I have an addictive personality, so I have to be careful with things like alcohol, and I haven't always been. In college, I exhibited the kind of self-destructive behavior that Martin & co. flirt with in their darkest moments. I didn't exactly have a "come to Jesus" moment, but I gradually discovered the pleasures of moderation, and now I feel I have a more or less healthy relationship with alcohol, which I'm grateful for because I know that not everyone in my position does.

And that's what Another Round ultimately feels like to me: a celebration of alcohol, yes, but more specifically a celebration of moderation. There's an emotional and psychological truth to the self-destructive aspects of Martin and his friends' behavior, and to this day I find myself slipping back into my old college mindset, using excessive amounts of alcohol as a way to escape from mental ruts and to break repetitive behavioral patterns in my life and my work, often both for better and for worse. As with any addiction, the road to recovery is paved with relapse, after all. But the heart of Another Round beats for that liminal space in between excess and abstinence, the moderation that bumps you out of the mundane repetition of the everyday and dissolves the inhibitions that hold us back socially, professionally, and romantically from living our best lives.

2020 | The Michael Allen Covid Canon

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