Romanticism can be a disease. Yet, it’s easy for any red-blooded person to get lost in their feelings. To be swept up by the wild and whirling emotions that can come with love. With choosing your heart over your mind. With letting your emotions dictate your actions. Love is an undeniably beautiful thing, but it’s also easy for love to get in the way of your best judgment. At its best, it’s the fuel through which we’re able to make our way through this unforgiving and inexplicable life. At its worst, however, it brings us down a rabbit hole of misguided endeavors and long-battled hardships.
Love is a dangerous game, as Millie Jackson once sang. But who can blame anyone for following their feelings? We live in a romantic society, after all. We love to watch beautiful people fall in love in weepy dramas or amusing romantic comedies. We adore lavish celebrations of devotion seen through expensive weddings. We cherish news clips celebrating 50-year anniversaries between senior citizens with that youthful look of love still burning in their eyes. It’s the dream, but is it achievable? For some of us, it is. But not for all of us. And sadly, too many have learned that lesson the hard way in this life.
Monday, the latest film from director Argyris Papadimitropoulos (Suntan), is a splashy and sensationalized effort, one that’ll possibly turn some folks off its intentional, unabashed abrasiveness. The response to the film’s TIFF debut appears to be divided — and understandably so. Seemingly by design, Papadimitropoulos’ latest film is a claustrophobic and unsettled viewing experience, and it matches the restless, unbridled feelings of our lovestruck, then lovelorn characters. If you don’t care for these characters, essentially, you’re gonna have a hard time falling for this movie. Especially since the filmmakers seemingly don’t care if you like them or not. They’re not the most endearing duo, but they’re amusing to watch in their debauchery. Well, at least, until they aren’t. Perhaps I’m already getting ahead of myself.
Chloe (Denise Gough) and Mickey (Sebastian Stan) are a pair of Americans who find their paths intertwined in Greece. Amid lovely scenery, a series of kooky events, and a number of meet-cute scenarios, it doesn’t take long for the sparks to fly between them. It seems like your typical rom-com scenario; these two personalities — the more straight-laced Chloe and the fun-loving Mickey — bring out each other’s adventurous side. Before the weekend’s end, they’ve dedicated to throw caution to the wind and say the hell with it. Let’s make it work! Who cares if Chloe was supposed to leave Greece in a matter of days? That was the past. This is the moment, baby. Let’s make it a party!
Alas, as months go by and the relationship becomes more and more serious, it’s apparent that these two might not be as compatible as they once thought. But bumpy roads are part of the journey. As we follow these two characters over the course of a few eventful Fridays, we watch as their relationship not-so-gradually deteriorates, as Mickey’s immaturity and his stubborn inability to take things seriously produces numerous headaches — both of the sober and hungover variety. All fun and games until it’s not, etc.
Over the course of the movie’s sensual and spiraling two hours, it’s hard not to be at least a little bit exhausted and frustrated by our pair of overzealous lovers. Between their destructive tendencies, their drug and alcohol-fueled hedonism, and their habit of acting like people nearly half their age, Chloe and Mickey are certainly far from the most agreeable on-screen romantics we’ve seen in the movies. Yet, through the movie’s passionate and persistent energy, I never lost my interest in their visceral, hyper-emotional whirlwind of fluttering feelings. It’s as challenging as it is captivating to watch them in the thorns of toxic love and blistering instability. It’s a chaotic film based on chaotic characters, and the filmmaker’s consistently inspired and vibrantly stylistic approach prevents Monday from ever wallowing inside any misery.
At times, Monday feels like you’re watching the Before trilogy while caught inside a blender that’s also making a boozy, beguiling concoction. Its frantic execution might prove to be the make-or-break-it moment; admittedly, its opening single-take tracking shot, evoking the style of Gaspar Noe’s Climax, will let you know instantly if this is the movie for you. Our ill-tempered and typically misguided characters are so caught up in their emotional intensity that we follow with curiosity and premature regret as they fall into the deep recesses of their messy romance, and I found myself invested throughout its turbulent tumult. Your mileage — as you can assess — may very well vary.
It should be noted, however, that for all its devil-may-care attitude, Monday is considerate in its approach. I found the narrative itself to be even-handed when following our two mismatched lovers. Stan and Gough put in commendable effort into making these characters well-realized and intuitive. The pulsating performances from Stan and especially Gough are key to the movie’s unwavering success. They commit to the intensity of the premise but there’s always passion and curiosity in their work. They’re always invested in figuring out what exactly makes these characters tick. And they’re very willing to explore the fussiness of their disorderly spirits. Both ambitious and unabashed, their magnetism as a couple matched with their eagerness to wrestle with the madness of their inner souls makes for a captivating pair of performances, building the foundation of this film’s firm investment, even as their characters lose themselves in their shambled lives.
Elevated by Christos Karamanis’s exceptional cinematography and the beating, pulsing life of Athens feeding into Monday‘s dazzling visuals, it’s a testament to the movie’s manic energy that it doesn’t seem cumbersome. But it’s also a credit to Papadimitropoulos and our two lead actors that we don’t lose the core humanity of these troubled romantics. While the movie’s high-strung attitude might make this story a little too much to bare, I give it credit for being so steadfast in its desire to explore the fanciful, unbearable aspects of this disastrous relationship, without sacrificing either the engagement or entertainment value of this debauched love experience.
Meant to serve as a visual representation of a “rom-com gone wrong,” according to the director, Monday is an actively thrilling, intensely unwavering look at a very violate cinematic romance, one that’s sharply bolstered by its fervent dynamism and free-wielding vitality. For love isn’t an easy exercise. It’s not as easy as it looks in the movies. But who said it wasn’t fun along the way?
Will Ashton is a Pop Culture writer for CinemaBlend and one of the co-hosts of Cinemaholics. He also co-hosts the It Ain’t Ogre ‘Til It’s Ogre podcast and considers himself a “Garfield Enthusiast.” For now.