Two beautiful people meet on a crowded dance floor in Greece. Or rather, they start making out immediately — no questions asked. They wake up on a beach the next morning in each other’s arms, totally naked, to the sounds of curious cops and outraged beachgoers. This is not a meet-cute exactly — the participants were way too drunk and horny for that — but it does serve the purpose of a meet-cute, which is to deeply invest us in what these two strangers will do next. She’s an immigration lawyer, about to head back to the U.S. after a year and a half of living in Greece. He’s a disc jockey who enjoys a life with no responsibilities, save for the son he never gets to see. His name is Mickey, and he’s played by the eerily versatile and chameleonic Sebastian Stan, whose sleepily confident face is the key to his hangdog charm. Her name is Chloe, and she’s played by the Irish actress Denise Gough, whose big, hungry eyes make a dramatic contrast to his. Before the day is through, he’s at the airport begging her to stay.
Argyris Papadimitropoulos’s romantic drama Monday (which opens today in select theaters and on demand) is built around a series of Fridays, glimpses into Mickey and Chloe’s life as it develops and devolves over the months following the adorably sleazy circumstance of their initial union. (It’s no great spoiler to say that Monday doesn’t come until the end of the movie.) Their initial lust for each other never quite abates. This is a relationship built on desire, and Papadimitropoulos and his game leads are generous with the sex, which is exciting and physical and never feels particularly prurient.
A love that emerges from such uncontrolled attraction is, understandably, of the throw-everything-away kind. She discards the more responsible life she could have had in the U.S. She discards her outwardly respectable friends, who are offended by Mickey’s judgmental layabout bohemian pals. As they move her stuff into his apartment (or rather — red-flag alert — the apartment he lives in rent-free, thanks to a generous pal), she has to discard her expensive sofa, the one significant purchase of her time in Greece. Just to make sure that we understand that this is a symbol, he douses the massive sofa with gasoline and burns it during an impromptu street rave, as a crowd of zonked-out partyers dance around it.
If it seems like Chloe is doing most of the discarding, that’s probably because she’s the one who has a life and responsibilities and maybe even hopes and dreams to discard. As another friend astutely observes that Mickey, who once had a promising music career, is only happy when he’s failing, and he sucks Chloe into his vortex of beautiful loserdom. He burns bridges with abandon, and his uptight ex won’t let him see their son until he gets his life together. As Chloe herself begins to have second thoughts about hitching her fate to this man, she discovers that sometimes a relationship takes on a life of its own. They are now seen as a unit, and their world is reorganizing itself around this fact, making it increasingly impossible to break free.
If Monday succeeds as a compelling drama — and, for all the clichés of its story, it does mostly succeed — it’s because Papadimitropoulos and his actors capture the intoxication of new love, as well as the slow-burn agony of the psychological combat that often ensues, with all the small skirmishes and victories and defeats that slowly pick away at a relationship. Monday can falter at the big moments (yes, someone does get annoyingly drunk at someone else’s wedding, and yes, they do take the mic from the wedding band and make embarrassing declarations), but it finds itself in the smaller, more intimate moments, which are filled with acute observations about attraction and relationships that make it clear the filmmaking comes from a place of brutal honesty. In truth, most of us probably haven’t lived a life remotely as messed up (or, alas, sexed up) as Chloe and Mickey’s. But as we watch these two likable wrecks try to carve out a place for themselves in the world, we can’t help but see something of ourselves in them.