During the summer 2018 production of Argyris Papadimitropoulos’ steamy romance “Monday,” no one could have guessed that the party-hearty film would eventually stand out as a curio of a bygone era. Shot on location in Greece and aided immeasurably by a game cast of random extras, many of them giddily bumping up against each other with wild abandon, movies like “Monday” will (presumably, hopefully) be made again. But for now, Papadimitropoulos’ free-wheeling feature arrives as something of a period piece, one that will likely charm and rankle in equal measure.
Wherever you might fall on that spectrum, the high energy of Papadimitropoulos’ direction stands out; so do stars Sebastian Stan and Denise Gough’s dedication to two sneakily tough characters who cycle through a wide variety of emotions over the course of a fraught romance. While the screenplay, penned by Papadimitropoulos and “Chewing Gum” writer Rob Hayes, seems to have drawn its inspiration from decades of indie romances, the chemistry between Stan and Gough (and the trust that Papadimitropoulos placed in them) helps power the film through its rough patches.
Chemistry, trust, and affection also speak to the film’s inherent themes, which ponder if it’s possible to turn a weekend romance into something that can last through, you guessed it, all the boring Mondays that follow. Ex-pats Mickey (Stan) and Chloe (Gough) meet sexy at a disco-thumping house party on a Friday, where it’s clear that neither of them is seeking anything serious: DJ Mickey is pumping the jams for a packed assortment of scantily clad revelers, while drunk Chloe is screaming into her phone at a wayward lover. After a mutual friend literally pushes them together (“You’re a man! And you’re a woman!” and there you have it), the pair is off to the races.
Despite its purposely vague official plotline, “Monday” doesn’t just follow the pair over a single weekend, but a series of them, all set over the course of the couple’s first few months together. From the go-for-broke of that first Friday, which sees the pair bond after being arrested after getting busy on the beach (neither star is shy about stripping down for the sex-soaked film), to a final sequence that bluntly twists the magic of that initial evening, “Monday” tracks the duo as they cycle through their passionate relationship.
When it works (with a nearly two-hour running time that stretches the premise to multiple breaking points, it does not always work), it’s mostly due to Stan and Gough’s strong performances. Stan is best known to most audiences for his work in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but when he wants to flex, he chooses smaller projects (see: “I, Tonya,” “Destroyer,” and “We Have Always Lived in the Castle”). Mickey could come off as smarmy — an ex-pat DJ with a reputation for catting around? there’s a safe bet — but Stan portrays him with a flinty, believable charm.
Gough, an Irish performer mostly known for her stage work, has the bigger lift. Although Chloe initially seems more put together, one of Mickey’s friends notes that he’s “only happy” when he’s failing and that’s something he and Chloe may have in common. Gough’s performance steadily chips away at Chloe’s facade, and the pair continually put their bond at risk with jealousies, odd twists, straight-up lies, and even legal entanglements. The litany of self-inflicted complications stack up with an exhausting regularity, but Stan and Gough work hard to hold the film — and their couple — together.
While Papadimitropoulos and his cast capture the perma-vacation feel that permeates Mickey and Chloe’s happiest moments, he’s less adept at navigating the heftier emotional elements. Similarly, cinematographer Hristos Karamanis’ photography is at its most vibrant and evocative when he’s weaving his camera around and through the film’s many raucous parties and nights out. When it’s fun, “Monday” is high-spirited and authentic; when it goes for deeper meanings, it falls into artifice. In this party movie, it’s the parties that are most real.
By the final misbegotten weekend, Papadimitropoulos aims to redirect his attention and affection into high emotional stakes, but the whiplash-inducing dramas don’t square with the film’s greatest strengths. Reorienting “Monday” and its conclusion around the feelings it first stirred — another party, another string of disco jams, another trip to the beach — is a fine idea, but it also feels like turning the lights on at a dance club and pushing everyone out into the street as they beg for one last dance. Who wouldn’t want to go back to everything that came before?
IFC Films will release “Monday” in select theaters and on various VOD and digital platforms on Friday, April 16.
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