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Tuesday, May 21, 2024
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REVIEW: ‘Challengers’ is a visually stunning thrill ride

Zendaya, Mike Faist and Josh O’Connor dazzle in this love triangle

Challengers,” directed by Luca Guadagnino, is a sports-romance drama that follows world-famous tennis power couple, Tashi (Zendaya) and Art Donaldson (Mike Faist), as Tashi tries to get Art out of a funk by entering him in a low-tier challenger event. It’s in this event that he happens to face Patrick (Josh O’Connor), his former friend and teammate, who is also Tashi’s ex-boyfriend.

We open in 2019 on Art, dripping with sweat. Unfortunately, for fans of Faist’s other work, there’s no tap dancing from him this time. Art is mid-battle on the tennis court with Patrick, and the bright colors of the outdoor summer scene shine as we watch the combatants pound the ball. 

In the middle of the action sits Tashi, the duo’s tennis coach. Tashi’s bob swishes back and forth as she follows the passing ball between Art in his pristine white Uniqlo and Patrick in his schlubby muscle shirt and plaid shorts. 

In the middle of the match, the film steps back thirteen years to 2006. 

In 2019, Art and Patrick despise each other. The two may as well be at war, not on the tennis court (and, for all intents and purposes, they practically are). But then, as we see in 2006, the two used to be friends. Brothers, even. Teammates. So how did this relationship deteriorate? 

It’s in 2006 that the boys meet Tashi. 

The trailer repeatedly declares, “Her game. Her rules,” and that’s accurate in this film. Even when the trio is young, Tashi is the star. Coming off of their doubles win, Art and Patrick are elated. Patrick even agrees to throw the singles final the next day so Art can win for his grandmother. 

But once they meet Tashi, all bets are off. This beautiful woman turns their partnership upside down when she declares that whoever wins the singles match will be awarded her phone number.

The two trailers for the film use “S&M” by Rihanna and “Maneater” by Nelly Furtado. That energy is kept throughout the movie. Tashi is manipulative and relies on the power and influence of her tennis strength. 

While the film may seem like a stark departure from Faist and O’Connor’s previous work, the two still stick to their typical archetypes. 

Faist is best known for originating the role of Connor Murphy in Dear Evan Hansen on Broadway, and for appearing in Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story as Riff. His characters are typically down-on-their-luck guys you want to root for, and now he’s a boarding school-trained elite tennis player. 

Meanwhile, O’Connor is best known for playing Prince Charles in The Crown where he regularly gets into screaming matches with Princess Diana. At the beginning of “Challengers,” O’Connor is scrounging for money for a room in a rundown hotel and winds up sleeping in his car. Seemingly the opposite of Charles, the two end up being similarly cruel. 

All of the performances in “Challengers” are stellar – Zendaya shines as she finally plays someone other than a high schooler and shows her command of the screen. Faist and O’Connor beautifully capture the complexity of male friendship and its turn to rivalry.

The film is visually stunning as well. In an era where so many movies and TV shows wind up being (literally) too dark, “Challengers” is largely bright and colorful. 

Set between 2006 and 2019, the film also understands that anything pre-2020, even in the 2000s, is a period piece at this point. Tashi uses an iPhone X in 2019, while Art types away on a Blackberry in 2007. As an adult, Tashi dresses in nice business casual attire, but as a teenager, she dances away in a strapless mini-dress before changing into a pink velvet hoodie. 

Like many films that utilize flashbacks, “Challengers” uses different hairstyles to differentiate the ages of their characters. 

While grown-up Tashi has a bob with blonde highlights, teenage Tashi sports long hair that looks like dye has never touched it. Adult Art’s hair is more brunette and cropped, while his younger self has more “surfer-dude” blonde hair. 

While Tashi and Art appear more professional as they age, adult Patrick sports scruff, compared to his clean-shaven younger self. These details add to their characterization as Tashi and Art become more serious as they age and Patrick remains childish. 

The shots throughout “Challengers” are also creative. 

At the beginning of the film, we watch Tashi’s eyes dart between Art and Patrick. Later during the same match, the camera quickly flicks back and forth between the men. We get an almost motion sickness-inducing view from the perspective of the tennis ball as it bounces up and down, and a Go Pro-like view from Patrick mid-game. 

This normally wouldn’t work, but it does here thanks to the consistency of atypical shots throughout the film and its resemblance to live sports coverage. The rest of the movie has built up tension to this single game of tennis, and so the slow motion and dramatic shots only add to that tension.

While said tension is largely sexual, the sexuality in the film has a competitive edge to it. Tashi spurs this on, as she lets both boys kiss her at once and makes them compete for her. 

The men, in turn, seem to perform sexuality in a competitive way. Patrick is very forward, always getting a little too close to anyone he’s talking to, and aggressively eating foods like bananas and churros in Art’s face. The men kiss in the heat of the moment while they’re with Tashi, but it doesn’t feel genuine — more like they’re showing off for her. 

“Challengers” is a fun time at the movies and is sure to please any fan of romance or drama. That being said, maybe don’t go see it with your parents.

This article was edited by Bailey Hobbs, Sara Winick and Abigail Turner. Copy editing done by Luna Jinks, Sydney Kornmeyer and Charlie Mennuti. 

Section 202 host Gabrielle and friends go over some sports that aren’t in the sports media spotlight often, and review some sports based on their difficulty to play. 

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