'CHALLENGERS' | REVIEW

Sep 14, 2023

'CHALLENGERS' | REVIEW

Sep 14, 2023

'CHALLENGERS' | REVIEW

Sep 14, 2023

Are we walking about tennis? Luca Guadangino’s newest film sets off with an incredible color palette, a love triangle with unfortunate consequences, and simplest of all, the game of tennis. But how much of this year’s highly anticipated triangle/sports drama is actually about the sport itself?

The film ‘Challengers’ was set to premier at the 2023 Cannes film festival after having been announced the previous year. But due to the S.A.G. A.F.T.R.A & W.A.G strike’s, it was (much like many other projects) pushed forward. The film finally had its very anticipated release in late April of 2024. Premiering in IMAX theaters all around the world.

Image courtesy of © 2023 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved.

‘Challengers’ follow our three protagonists. Tashi Duncan, a young tennis prodigy who turns coach as the result of a bad injury, her ex-boyfriend Patrick Zweig, once equal to her in both talent and passion for the game, but now moreso a low-circuit and struggling tennis player, and her husband Art Donaldson; Patrick’s childhood friend and now, professional tennis champion. The story takes us through thirteen years of their shared history, including the rise and fall of each of their relationships to each other, and the game of tennis itself. Things take an interesting turn when the two former childhood friends, Art & Patrick, face off at the ATP Challenger tour after years of having gone their separate ways, largely due to the rift that was caused by Tashi’s character.

Image courtesy of © 2023 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Although it can be hard to see the red thread between Guadiangino’s previous works (Call me by your name, Suspiria, and Bones & All to name a few), he still wow’s with his ability to produce a unique experience for the audience, and using a disguise of something unexpected, in this case tennis, to portray the different struggles of power, passion and jealousy that we experience in our lives. Challengers is packed with beautiful cinematography, great acting and a very subtle yet charming use of simple visual storytelling to heighten the stakes of the scenes and interactions between our main characters. Zendaya (Tashi Duncan) delivers an extremely sharp performance opposite Mike Faist’s (Art Donaldson) quiet and calculating approach to his character. But the star of this show is undeniably Josh O’connor with his playful, charismatic and confident portrayal of Patrick Zweig. There are plenty of conflicts and obstacles to keep your interest in this story, and at certain times, on the very edge of your seat. It becomes clear that the characters in this film are all deeply flawed people with extremely selfish motivations, which is without doubt what makes them so interesting to follow. The story is heavily sprinkled with sexual innuendos that I think translated very well. They are playful, fun and sexy without insisting too much upon themselves. Closeness and intimacy are discovered in more ways than just through sexual aspects, and the love triangle truly touches all three corners of the triangle.

Image courtesy of © 2023 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Where ‘Challengers’ fails to keep me engaged as a viewer, is through the excessive time jumps. Although the use of time jumps is sometimes a great story telling tool, it did get a bit blurry towards the last quarter of the film. The pacing here could have benefitted from less back and forth, as it somewhat lacked clarification on what was taking place where, and during what time.

But aside from that, what remains a truly unique experience about ‘Challengers’ is the fact that you’re given a different story and perspective depending on which character you decide to focus on. I urge watchers to let each character take your hand and guide you through this story, and I assure you that you’ll have a changed opinion by the end, each time. This was achievable only through Guadagnino and writer Justin Kuritzkes’ bravery with taking the risk of the three-star show being slightly overwhelming and messy. But I believe that this is proof that when it is done well, it works well; and provides audiences with a film they can revisit more than once. My rating for this film lands on a 4/5.

Image courtesy of © 2023 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved.

So, is ‘Challengers’ about tennis? Absolutely, and absolutely not. Throughout the story the lines are constantly blurred. The characters ask themselves, just as we do, are we still talking about the game? Tashi Duncan famously quotes that a good game of tennis is like making love. And perhaps Guadagingo’s magic approach to the symbolism of playing a game, being in love, wanting power and the thirst of becoming the greatest, all come together somewhere between our relationships to other people, our relationship to ourselves, and making sure you hit the ball.

RATING: 4/5

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