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‘Monday’ Review: A Winter Soldier’s summer romance

Sebastian Stan stretches his legs (and drops trou) as an actor opposite Denise Gough as the two navigate a troubled romance.

In Argyris Papadimitropoulos' 'Monday,' Sebastian Stan and Denise Gough play expat Americans who fall into a troubled romance in the wake of an unexpected and volcanic sexual attraction at a party in Greece.
(Image: © IFC)

Our Verdict

Argyris Papadimitropoulos' film offers real heat but also substance as it explores these two troubled characters' romance with one another.

For

  • 💕 Gough is revelatory as a sensible, clear-eyed lawyer who watches herself get ensnared in a relationship constantly in trouble.
  • 💕 Stan commits admirably to the role of Mickey, shedding his clothes and his toughness to explore the character's sensuality — and vulnerability.

Against

  • 💕 There's an inevitability to the descent of this relationship that Papadimitropoulos fights against but can't quite avoid telegraphing.

Sexy movies are in rarer supply than ever these days, and Monday manages to be sexy in a way that feels beautiful and honest, and even responsible. The story of two Americans falling in love in Greece, director and co-writer Argyris Papadimitropoulos’ new film explores the complexities of relationships in the wake of undeniable sexual chemistry, and how the dynamics of attraction can keep two people together against the odds of the events that may have brought them together — including failed relationships, troubled pasts, and trauma that both broke them and made them who they are. Sebastian Stan and Denise Gough as mesmerizing as the couple at the center of Papadimitropoulos’ story, exposing themselves in more ways than physically as they challenge the audience to root for two people who seem perfect and perfectly self-destructive for one another at the same time.

Stan (The Falcon and the Winter Soldier) plays Mickey, an expat American musician living in Greece, making a living as a DJ. After his best friend Argyris (Yorgos Pirpassopoulos) introduces him to Chloe (Gough, The Other Lamb), an immigration lawyer and the only other American at a party where he’s DJing, Mickey wakes up with her in handcuffs, naked, on a beach, and the two spend a few hours killing time before she is set to return to the United States. Notwithstanding their irrepressible sexual chemistry, Mickey and Chloe seem to connect easily emotionally as well; so after he rushes to the airport to stop her from leaving the country, she decides to move in with him in Greece and see whether their whirlwind fling can amount to more compatibility than between their raging hormones.

Their wildly different backgrounds almost immediately prove a problem; even though booze flows freely to keep them enjoying good times, his bohemian lifestyle clashes with her law practice, and she wrestles with the fallout from a bitter breakup with her Greek ex Christos (Andreas Konstantinou) while he contends with a custody dispute over his son Hector with his ex-girlfriend Aspa (Elli Tringou). But as these individual troubles exert more stress on their relationship, they fight to find a common ground in that simple and undeniable chemistry that drew them to one another in the first place. With reality crashing into their idyllic relationship with increasing frequency (and brutality), Mickey and Chloe soon find themselves at a crossroads, intertwined with love and long-term responsibility as they question whether their futures will be together or separate.

There’s an undeniable eroticism to this movie that too few others have these days, and Papadimitropoulos captires that better than absolutely anything else, not just in its carnality but its unique intimacy; the idea that these two characters meet only after having sex and getting arrested together is just the first of its skillful displays of singular, one-for-the-grandkids moments of bonding. Certainly it helps that Stan and Gough act like libertines in one of the most beautiful landscapes on the planet, but the filmmaker captures the ways that their feverish attraction carries them through both conflicts and celebrations — sometimes at the same time. Mickey and Chloe are old enough to have gone through some real life experiences, so they know themselves in a way that, say, oversexed 20somethings might not, and it gives their affection and urgency because it represents what they like about each other as well as an unspoken fear that it might not be enough to carry them through their problems.

Aside from having stellar taste as a DJ (the first track he plays in the movie — the one playing while he meets Chloe, in Donna Summer’s timeless “I Feel Love” — and it progresses from there), Mickey is beautifully engineered as a character and convincingly played by Stan. Whether or not he believes the line that not one but a few of his friends suggests about him that he’s only happy when he’s destroying the success in his life, he’s exactly the kind of handsome, sensitive, but deeply troubled fellow who would easily attract, well, any young woman, but especially one on the rum from her own demons. Watching the uncommonly astute Chloe witness one red flag after another as Mickey’s wanderlust and irresponsibility force her to re-evaluate their relationship is simultaneously an act of masochism for her and of anxiety for the audience, because they’re forced to consider at what point they should have cut and run, or not, over and over again.

To that end, Gough is just absolutely captivating as Chloe, and you cannot help but feel empathetic to her as she clings to him in an ongoing recognition of attraction and desperation but without know which, or at what moment. In that sense, the movie skillfully dramatizes all of the regular, unexpected glimpses lovers get into the past lives of their partners, and the triggers that make us wonder if it’s worth it to continue when they don’t want to do that, or elide responsibility about some aspect of seemingly ordinary life. There are, of course, many movies about immature men and the women that love them, but Papadimitropoulos really makes this a two-hander, exploring how clear are Chloe’s eyes and giving the character the space and time to examine why she’s choosing to forgive and forget over and over when perhaps she shouldn’t.

I would add that at the (hopeful) tail end of a pandemic this film exudes a special kind of romanticism because even amidst the problems that these characters experience, they happen literally in a beautiful place but also in a way that makes you yearn for Mickey and Chloe’s dysfunction, simply because they’re about taking chances and exposing themselves like it feels audiences haven’t (for a while anyway). But also, Papadimitropoulos is a gifted filmmaker and he manages to find real dimensionality in summer-loving tropes that haven’t been there in a long time, and he coaxes intimacy out of the relationship that covers both their emotional connection and the steam of two people grappling with one another in a ship’s hold. Ultimately, if there’s one weakness to Monday, it’s a sort of halfhearted fealty to a structure leading inevitably to its title; but Stan and Gough are so compelling to watch on screen that the film doesn’t need it, and quite frankly, whether or not they’re able to make it work, all of the days in between are more than interesting enough.