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Directed by Luca Guadagnino
Produced by Luca Guadagnino, Amy Pascal, Zendaya, and Rachel O'Connor
With: Zendaya, Mike Faist, and Josh O'Connor
Cinematography: Sayombhu Mukdeeprom
Editing: Marco Costa
Music: Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross
Runtime: 131 min
Release Date: 26 April 2024
Aspect Ratio: 1.85 : 1
Color: Color

After a brief detour into genre fair—the superficial Suspiria remake and the silly teen cannibal romance road picture, Bones and All, as well as two Italian films that I don't think got US releases (Enea and Holiday)—Luca Guadagnino returns to the type of picture he does best. I'm not sure if I would describe his movies A Bigger Splash and Call Me By Your Name as prestige erotic dramas or psychologically complex horny movies, but they are both four-star films as far as I'm concerned. Challengers is not of the same caliber as those two, but it is an entertaining picture. Set in the tennis world, the story centers on a love triangle between Tashi (Zendaya), a former tennis prodigy who turned coach after an injury, who becomes involved with two childhood buddies who are also up-and-coming stars of the sport, Patrick and Art (Josh O'Connor and Mike Faist). The non-linear structure of Justin Kuritzkes' original screenplay jumps back and forth between a tense match played between Patrick and Art in a New Rochelle venue that wouldn't, at first, seem to be such a high-stakes game; to the night the guys met Tashi when they were all high schoolers; to various other points over the course of thirteen years.

The film explores themes of love and lust, success and failure, fame and happiness, attraction and repulsion, but it never becomes more than an adolescent melodrama. Still, there's nothing wrong with a good adolescent melodrama. Though everything feels aimed at audiences who haven't seen a lot of movies before—the visual metaphors are a bit on-the-nose, and things are foreshadowed heavy-handedly—the amusing and unexpected way the characters respond to these tropes keeps them from feeling cliche. The actors and production team do their best to make the three leads (who are pretty much the only people in this movie) look credible at different ages, from teens to early thirties. These attempts are not fully successful, so the time-jumping would get a little muddled if the narrative were not so simple to follow.

The push-pull attractions between the three protagonists play a bit like the Kate-Jack-Sawyer dynamic on the ABC TV show Lost (maybe all the flashbacks made me think of that Aughts program). The tennis matches are shot like like fight scenes mashed up chess-playing scenes, which is fun. The soundtrack by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross is less inspired; everything sounds like a nightclub DJ remix of Yellow's "Oh Yeah," and I didn't get why some key dialogue scenes were drowned out by the same music used for the tennis matches and slow-mo shots of the leads walking purposefully onto the courts. But I loved the way the film oggles its absurdly attractive and confident stars in ways that never feel leering or exploitative. As with Bigger Splash and Name, Guadagnino reminds us that so much of why we used to go to the movies was to watch impossibly good-looking people fall in love and in lust with each other, fuck, fight, break up, make up, and learn about life through choices that might always be the best. This vicarious pleasure is not something to cringe at; it's one of the things cinema does best! 


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Zendaya), Josh O'Connor, and Mike Faist are an impossibly sexy threesome in Luca Guadagnino's sports melodrama about young tennis players who compete on and off the courts.