Some movies can bring out the life coach in you, the one who wants to get the characters to straighten up and fly right. Is that just because they’re behaving badly? Not exactly. Bad behavior is half of what movies are. No, when a film nudges your inner life coach, it’s because someone onscreen is up to something so wrongheaded that it ceases to be clear whether it’s him or the movie that needs an intervention.
For a while, “Monday” gives you the fizzy sensation that it’s just what an indie romantic comedy should be: buoyant and real, full of the sexiness of smashed boundaries, with two alluring free spirits at its center. At a disco house party in Athens, Chloe (Denise Gough), an American visitor who’s in the middle of a drunken breakup via cell phone, meets Mickey (Sebastian Stan), an American expatriate who’s DJ-ing the party, spinning Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love,” a song that drives the film’s early burst of hormonal romantic rapture.
The two escape into the night, and the next thing that we or they know, they’ve woken up naked on the beach, the Greek morning sun glinting off their bodies. Apparently, it was a reckless night. But we can also see that it was love at first shag. Mickey is a blithely boyish tall charmer, cruising through life, the kind of laidback rogue who prides himself on being a total sweetheart (and he is, until he isn’t). As Chloe tells him when he drops her off on his motorcycle, “Thank you for not being an asshole.” She’s about to head back to the States, and looks a bit raccoon-eyed after their night of depravity. But he convinces her to spend her last day or two in Greece with him, which means more parties, more dancing, and a lot more shagging — and more chances for him to show off what a nice guy he is, like when he improvises a halfway stylish outfit for her by shearing off the legs of his own pants.
Mickey has lived in Greece for seven years, and doesn’t do much besides DJ-ing and sponging off his crazy wealthy party-animal friend Argyris (Yorgos Pirpassopoulos). But Sebastian Stan, loosening up in one of his breaks from the MCU, makes him the soul of likability. As for Chloe, she’s an immigration lawyer, and Denise Gough gives her an arresting sharpness. She’s a straight arrow who drinks too much, as hungry for chancy pleasure as Mickey is, but not as carefree. She’s got complications, and treats what’s happening as a fling, until the movie trots out that staple of a thousand rom-coms, the dude-bares-his-soul-by-chasing-down-girl-at-the-airport scene. Only here it happens half an hour into the film. And then they lived…
Happily? We know it can’t be that easy, because there wouldn’t be a movie. It’s a symbol of Chloe and Mickey’s newfound commitment that she gets him to load up a van with her uncomfortable-looking modernist designer couch, and it’s also a sign of that commitment when she watches him set fire to it while hosting another disco party in the square outside his apartment. In “Monday,” the free-spiritedness of it all keeps getting out of hand, as these two attempt to keep the romantic party going, drink for drink. Yet the real problem is that as soon as they move in together, the director, Argyis Papadimitropoulos, starts to the overload the screen with red flags.
Like the fact that Mickey has a six-year-old son he claims to have a relationship with, but from all evidence barely sees. Or the scene in which his old bandmate, Bastian (Dominique Tipper), stops by for a visit. It seems that their band had a good run, but as soon as they’d found success during a tour, Mickey quit. Why? “You fuckin’ hate yourself,” says Bastian. “You are not happy unless you’re failing.” Chloe listens to all this aghast. Did she make a terrible mistake? At least, that’s what we think she’d be asking herself, and that’s the way that Gough plays it.
Yet as the movie throws in more and more moments of Mickey’s flakiness, his short fuse, and, for all his natty charm, the selfishness he wears like a bad suit, Chloe, for increasingly hard-to-fathom reasons, simply goes along with it all. “Monday,” shot with a mostly Greek crew, has been made with a certain degree of lively flair, and the two actors have moments where they really fuse. A party scene in which Chloe’s friends, who are elegant achievers, meet Mickey’s, who are like supporting players from “My Big Fat Greek Frat House,” produces comic sparks.
But Papadimitropoulos treats most of the film as if he were making “Blue Valentine” or “Head-On”: a study in masculine narcissism. Sebastian Stan has the moody skill as an actor to pull this off. Yet the movie, which at times feels semi-improvised, isn’t structured to allow the central relationship to build dramatically. By the time Chloe screams at him, “What am I fucking doing?,” we wonder, frankly, why it took her so long to say it. And even then she’s not done. Mickey simply expects the woman he’s with to go along with his arrested antics, and the problem with “Monday” is that on some level the movie does too.