The most important thing about any romantic drama is that the audience believes the attraction between its central characters. While “Bittersweet Monday” may not have too much else going for it, writer/director/star Jaime Lee hits the nail on the head when it comes to chemistry. The film explores the complicated emotions that develop between two friends who are both in dwindling marriages with relatively neglectful spouses and whether or not it’s fate or just prolonged discontentment that finally brings them together.
Lee plays Monica, an unemployed NYC journalist in a stale marriage to lawyer Peter (David Covington). Her best friend Jeremy’s (Philipp C. Wolter, bearing a striking resemblance to actor Frank Grillo) wife Gina (Lauren LoGiudice) is a fashion model who constantly travels and leaves little time for her husband, even when she’s in town. While Jeremy and Gina prepare to move to Austin, Texas, feelings that Monica has long kept stowed away for Jeremy slowly and awkwardly begin to surface, resulting in a kiss that they mutually seem to think is a mistake.
The tug-of-war between fidelity and true love goes back and forth after the big move, as Monica quickly takes the opportunity to visit Jeremy when filling a writing position for her ex-boyfriend, travel editor Jude (John Jude Schultz) on a job that happens to be in Austin. She suggests that Jude hire Jeremy, a photographer, to take the pictures for the article so that they can work together. When Monica arrives and it turns out that Gina is away on another gig, little is left to buffer their friendship from progressing into a full-blown affair.
“Bittersweet Monday” is nothing if not genuine, though often times the sheer honesty of it can produce sleep-inducing lulls: much of the time we spend waiting for Monica just to spit out her thoughts, but by the same token Lee more than ably conveys her character’s hesitation about putting all her emotional cards on the table for fear they won’t be fully reciprocated. This type of dynamic is often fraught with unnecessary melodrama, something that “Bittersweet Monday” thankfully avoids, mainly because of the organic, seemingly effortless connection between the two leads.
Though mostly on the periphery, their spouses lend some perspective to the situation and how things might have gotten to where they are. With LoGiudice as the self-involved model and Covington as Monica’s aloof and possibly insecure husband, it doesn’t take much analysis to figure out where things have gone wrong in their respective marriages. But the film doesn’t put all the fault on them: even if Gina and Peter were more attentive, loving people, who’s to say that Monica and Jeremy would be any less drawn to one another?
Watching “Bittersweet Monday” is kind of like being a fly on the wall in the lives of two people trying to navigate a romance that has been burgeoning for years. It’s not of the steamy, captivating “forbidden love” variety, but a simple love story that doesn’t attempt to engage us with overblown controversy or desperate clichés.
“Bittersweet Monday” is playing Monday, October 13th at the Reel Independent Film Extravaganza at West End Cinema in Washington, DC.