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“Challengers” Review: A Class In Character Development

“Challengers” Review: A Class In Character Development

Or not

 

 

The world’s been talking, and the name on everyone’s lips—again—is Zendaya, this time from her portrayal of Tashi in Luca Guadagnino (Call Me By Your Name)’s Challengers.

 

 

In the film, Tashi is a tennis player turned coach (after an unfortunate injury), who has helped transform her husband from a rather mediocre pro to a world-famous Grand Slam champion. But now that he’s experiencing a losing streak, Tashi takes it upon herself to sign him up for challenger event, which is one of the lowest levels on the pro tour, in order to build himself back up.

 

All is going well, and husband Art (Mike Faist) is regaining his confidence—that is, until he finds himself across the net from Patrick (Josh O’Connor), his ex-best friend and Tashi’s ex-boyfriend.

 

 

Let’s get the obvious thing out of the way. Challengers is, as everyone has said, a “sexy movie.” It puts three great looking people together on screen to battle it out romantically, leaving very little to the imagination. But what sets this apart from your usual sex-fueled film is that the foreplay is incredibly long and competitive. Tashi says it at the very beginning of the movie: Tennis is like a relationship, and how you play with your opponent on the pavement signals your chemistry.

 

But what makes Challengers entertaining is that it is entertaining. Guadagnino jumps from the present to the past, from the tennis court to motel rooms, from the audience’s eyes darting side to side to scenes seemingly shot from the tennis ball’s point of view. It’s funny sometimes and frustrating others, but always real and emotionally driven.

 

 

Our three protagonists are driven, almost by an animalistic need to compete and be the best or to be on top—in one way or another. But this strength is also the one downfall of Challengers. You have three strong players sharing the screen, and yet you learn very little about them.

 

Tashi is manipulative. Art is good. Patrick is a douche. Tashi uses everything in her arsenal to get what she wants. Art does what he can, but is humble enough to know there is a limit to his skill. Patrick is just trying to find some aspect of his life where he can win. But we never really learn anything beyond this. We don’t know what motivates Tashi, we don’t know why Art is so mediocre, we don’t know why Patrick failed despite his obvious skill. So when I say that it’s a masterclass in character development, I don’t mean that literally. Challengers just knows what parts to peel off and what to leave on.

 

All of this is basically saying this: Challengers is a great film, but don’t walk in with the expectation that you’ll walk out a changed person with a newfound level of understanding of what it means to be human.

 

 

So if you feel compelled to watch the film, I don’t blame you. Watch it and get swept away by the narrative and the performances. Immerse yourself in the world of tennis in the film’s 131-minute runtime. But don’t be fooled into thinking you’ll ever get the full picture.

 

“Challengers” is showing in theaters now.

 

 

Art Alexandra Lara

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