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Movie Review: Challengers



 

“First of all, there is no love triangle. There is a person in the middle who likes attention.” - John from FYA


I think what initially threw me off about Challengers is the director, Luca Guadagnino making what is without question, his most crowd-pleasing, mainstream story to date. Whether you want to talk about Call Me by Your Name and that scene or his Suspiria remake and its, well everything, or the horrific cannibal love story of Bones and All, he tends to lean more on the side of macabre subjects or sexual matters that challenge the idea of what most would consider normal. In short he likes to push the envelope of what is art and what is crude, often toeing the line between the two. While Challengers is certainly sexy and sexually driven, it feels more palatable for the average moviegoer. That isn’t to say that it’s in any way less intriguing or engaging.  



If the basic love triangle between two men and a woman remained the only focus or underlying theme then Challengers might still make for a competent enough dramatic romance but it’s the additional themes of power and manipulation that really make this an exciting piece of storytelling. On two of the sides of this convoluted love triangle is Patrick and Art. They are friends but also competitors in more ways than one. Both are tennis prodigies on a collision course that will inevitably end with them facing off against one another. Little do they realize that when this game eventually occurs there will be one major caveat driving a massive wedge between them taking this future tennis match and turning it into a trophy match. The trophy in question? Her. Tashi. The other side of the triangle. 


The three leads, Zendaya, Mike Faist and Josh O’Connor are the true driving force that make this something far more than just your average romance drama. They convey the emotions of these characters in astounding fashion and clarity. 



At its most basic the story is about three tennis talents at different stages of their careers. As the two friends discover they might have a chance with a tennis star at the peak of her fame and only growing in popularity, their friendship grows strained and in its place forms something far beyond just a simple friendly rivalry. As for the girl, her career faces its greatest challenge as she becomes injured forcing her to alter the course of her very bright future. Beneath the surface is a heaping of contempt and jealousy that influences nearly every decision these three make when it comes to the one thing they all covet beyond their sexual proclivities and that is tennis.



Zendaya plays Tashi, an up and coming tennis superstar. At her peak performance, Tashi is a force on the court. Her path to becoming a professional tennis player and reaching the U.S. Open is all but guaranteed. She is seemingly a strong competitor but it’s when her injury makes her face a different kind of challenge that her true self comes to light. 


In one hand she holds Patrick and in the other, Art. In their minds they are competing for her and what her approval ultimately means to them. What they don’t realize, and where the performance by Zendaya becomes transcendent, is that every step of this years long journey leading to a seemingly inconsequential tennis match has been manipulated by her and her desire to see who between her two man puppets will triumph. The winner of the match gets her. But only if they keep winning. She lost her power on the court and aims to control them from the sideline. Zendaya commands the screen portraying a kind of gleeful affinity for manipulation. These two men, people she claims to care for, even love, are simply means to an end for her. She is brilliantly devious and exudes sex appeal making for a fantastically powerful performance. 



O’Connor and Faist play characters obsessed with competing for the top prizes in tennis. They play into a friendship that maintains its civility as long as each remains clear of the other in all aspects from tennis to matters of the heart or inseam. New to my world, O’Connor and Faist are fascinating to watch. At once they can be possessive and powerful only to crumble under the guise of a woman each man thinks he holds the heart of, metaphorically of course. They show true command of the tennis court, proving to be every bit the other man’s equal. They bring the same tenacity to an ill-fated relationship disguised as love but in truth is a series of physical releases with hopes of channeling that energy onto the court and into the limelight. They are a trio made for each other and yet somehow become detrimental to their obsessively sought after futures. Needless to say, it’s complicated.



Challengers is a sexy story of miscast love between three individuals too blinded by their own ambitions to truly understand what it means to love another human being. The leads are outstanding both dramatically and physically, displaying power and vulnerability in the most intimate of moments as well as being total powerhouses on the tennis court where their characters are unmatched. Guadagnino’s direction is lively, utilizing unique cinematography to convey intensity on the court that makes the tennis scenes legitimately enticing. The intimate moments between the three characters are as equally pulsating as they are teeming with innuendo and possibility. It is as much a back and forth off the court as it is on and the tennis match between friends is absorbing and yet somehow it isn’t even the most rousing encounter between them as the competition is far from limited to the confines of a tennis court. 



Rated R For: language throughout, some sexual content and graphic nudity

Runtime: 131 minutes

After Credits Scene: No

Genre: Drama, Romance, Sport

Starring: Zendaya, Josh O’Connor, Mike Faist

Directed By: Luca Guadagnino


Out of 10

Story: 8.5/ Acting: 10/ Directing: 8/ Visuals: 8.5

OVERALL: 8/10


Buy to Own: Yes

 

Check out the trailer below:


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