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USD $1 ₱ 58.70 0.0720 June 13, 2024
June 12, 2024
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MOVIE REVIEW: Unpredictable and explosive, ‘Challengers’ is an irreverent love story like no other

‘Challengers’ is so refreshing and unpredictable. It’s not cookie-cutter in any way and I hope that this is the trend for commercial films moving forward. It’s hard-hitting, smart, and risqué.

You don’t need to know anything about the game tennis to enjoy the crazy ride that is ‘Challengers.’ This is not so much as a sports movie as it is a movie about three very passionate athletes whose complicated, intertwined relationships comes crashing into each other in the midst of a very integral challenger tennis match. I know nothing about tennis, and I didn’t need to. It’s merely the backdrop, and in some cases the filmmaking inspiration, for this sordid love triangle. Director Luca Guadagnino (with screenwriter Justin Kuritzkes) serves up some crazy, sensual character dynamics that turns love and friendship into a competition of a different kind.

What Guadagnino manages to do, as well, is to take the fast-paced, hard-hitting energy of the sport and suffused it into his craft. The film is in constant back-and-forth. The characters are constantly pushing each other, testing each other, goading each other. The camera work and the editing take on this approach as well. The narrative is constantly jumping from present day to the past, the flashbacks serving up the context to make the present-day competition even more tension-filled and ready to explode.

‘Challengers’ is about two friends, Patrick and Art (played by Josh O’ Connor and Mike Faist, respectively), who are both tennis players and have fallen for Zendaya’s Tashi Duncan, an emerging tennis superstar. At a tournament in their youth the three get close and a relationship is formed but things get complicated. When Tashi suffers a career-ending injury, she ends up with one of the friends and becomes his coach while the other is waiting on the wings, waiting for his turn to get into the spotlight.

C_05746_R2 Mike Faist stars as Art and Josh O’Connor as Patrick in director Luca Guadagnino’s CHALLENGERS An Amazon MGM Studios film Photo credit: Niko Tavernise © 2024 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved.

What makes ‘Challengers’ so enjoyable is how the love story of all three characters – because the friendship of Patrick and Art can get just as deep and just as messy as Tashi’s relationship with both men – are handled without any reverence to the concept of romance. Tashi is a cold, hard woman who has a clear-cut definition of what she wants out of life and out of her partner. Both men are constantly trying to win her over but are no match for Tashi’s strength. Instead, they take it out on each other and despite all her strength, Tashi can’t seem to shake off both of them from her orbit.

The trio are sizzling with such chemistry that any of their interactions with each other are just explosive and Guadagnino knows how to capture it on film. He sees them as fully fleshed-out characters and is quick to capture all their little nuances and facial tics as each one is pushing against the other – taunting, teasing, pleading, flirting – but Guadagnino also understands that they are sexual beings as well. There’s a lot of skin here, bodies covered in sweat and glistening under the sun. Desire is the film’s fulcrum, but the characters are not the best at articulating what it is they really want or need and so there is friction and that’s the fuel that drives the movie to its highs and lows.

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(L to R) Mike Faist as Art, Zendaya as Tashi and Josh O’Connor as Patrick in CHALLENGERS, directed by Luca Guadagnino, a Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures film. Credit: Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures © 2023 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved.

It’s a love story but Guadagnino doesn’t film it like a romance story. It’s set in the world of tennis but it’s not a sports movie either. It’s sexy but it’s never gratuitous or obscene. ‘Challengers’ is a crazy, high-octane study on the complex relationship of three athletes who seem to be conflating their careers, their love, and their own lost dreams and hopes into this one match. Propelled forward by the relentless soundtrack of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, ‘Challengers’ is fun, irreverent, and completely bonkers because it’s a love story where everything is at stake, and no one seems to know how to love properly.

C_00654_R Zendaya stars as Tashi and Josh O’Connor as Patrick in director Luca Guadagnino’s CHALLENGERS An Amazon MGM Studios film Photo credit: Niko Tavernise © 2024 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Zendaya, O’ Connor, and Faist are so charismatic and magnetic that you cannot help but get involved in the crazy antics of the three leads as struggle to make sense out of what it is they are feeling for each other and of their own selves. These are mature and intelligent performances that is so fun to watch because they are so committed to the craziness of this story. 

C_05803_R Mike Faist stars as Art and Zendaya as Tashi in director Luca Guadagnino’s CHALLENGERS An Amazon MGM Studios film Photo credit: Niko Tavernise © 2024 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Challengers’ is so refreshing and unpredictable. It’s not cookie-cutter in any way and I hope that this is the trend for commercial films moving forward. It’s hard-hitting, smart, and risqué. It never feels safe and it’s just so enjoyable watching a movie that makes you laugh out loud and catches you off guard.

My Rating:



Challengers is now showing. Check screening times and buy tickets here.

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Challengers
Drama, Romance
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