Don’t get too taken in by a first impression — that’s a lesson learned by the characters in “Monday,” but it’s valuable advice for the audience as well. What starts out as a sexy, sun-soaked romp becomes a heartbreaking examination of two people who are absolutely wrong for each other.
Not just any filmmaker can craft sex scenes that are both exhilarating in the moment and, in the aggregate, essential to building plot and character, but director Argyris Papadimitropoulos (who co-wrote with Rob Hayes, “Gretel & Hansel”) manages that delicate balance. The Greek locations (shot by Hristos Karamanis) are gorgeous, but what starts like a travelogue winds up more of a tragedy.
We first meet Chloe (Denise Gough, “The Kid Who Would Be King”) at a party, drunk and leaving screaming voicemails for the boyfriend who has stood her up. Host Argyris (Giorgos Pyrpasopoulos) introduces her to his friend Mickey (Sebastian Stan), the DJ, since they’re both American. Both attracted to him and emotionally fragile, Chloe starts making out with Mickey.
The two wake up, hungover and naked, on a public beach, where they’re arrested but quickly released, with Mickey charming one of the cops into giving them a ride home. After a weekend of lots more drinking and lots more sex, Chloe is set to return to the U.S., but Mickey shows up at the airport in the nick of time and convinces her to stay. So far, so rom-com.
When this passionate fling turns into cohabitation and a full-on relationship, however, their differences overwhelm their mutual passion. She’s an attorney who’s used to a certain degree of discipline and order to her life; he quit his band seven years prior, just as it was about to achieve success, and has spent that time knocking around Greece with no responsibilities. (He has a child whose mother — wisely, as it turns out — doesn’t want to share custody.)
The harder they try to make things work, the clearer it becomes that Chloe and Mickey are chasing the dragon of their sexual attraction and trying to turn that into the basis for a meaningful partnership. (Tellingly, each segment of the film opens with a title card that reads “FRIDAY,” leading the characters to the inevitable reckoning of the titular day.)
Both Mickey and Chloe are flawed but not irredeemable; they simply don’t work together, no matter how well they click physically. Both Gough and Stan, internet voyeurs be damned, unhesitatingly embrace the nudity and simulated sex required to convey this aspect of the relationship, and “Monday” captures the couple’s increasing desperation as it becomes clearer that sex is the only thing keeping them together.
These performances are about more than just literal nudity, of course; both leads strip away the surface layers of the characters — her brisk efficiency, his good-time party vibes — to get at the vulnerability and the complex neuroses of each. Their utter incompatibility comes to its fullest fruition when they throw a party to introduce their friends to each other; her professional pals think Mickey’s chums are disgusting man-babies, while his buddies find her peers to be craven, soulless yuppies. And they’re both correct.
For audiences who know Stan only from the MCU and Gough solely from her acclaimed turn as Hannah Pitt in the recent revival of “Angels in America,” “Monday” offers two fearless performances from actors who are clearly ready and able to tackle challenging material. It’s a film that goes down smoothly at first, before offering a surprisingly powerful kick.
“Monday” opens in US theaters and on demand April 16.