Tennis Is Sexy Goddammit!: A Review of Challengers

Note: This review contains hella spoilers for the movie. Read at your own risk.

I always thought tennis was for awkward pre-teens and angry men at the Olympics, so my expectations for the Challengers film were low when I went to see it a few weeks ago. I only really went because Zendaya was in it. Directed by Luca Guadagnino – the mastermind behind Call Me By Your Name – Challengers seems like a movie about three tennis players’ careers and relationships over a decade. But it is so much more than that.

What Did Glass Think?

Where do I even begin? The fact that the two male actors (Mike Faist and Josh O’Connor) look kind of like mice (rat boy summer is upon us)? Or the fact that, apart from the three main characters, there really isn’t anyone else in this movie?

But there are some things that must be spoken about, the first being the sheer amount of sweat in this movie. Not so much on Tashi (Zendaya), who almost always looks cool and relaxed, even when she’s propositioning a threesome or watching her two boy-toys fight for her affections. But the boys, Patrick (O’Connor) and Art (Faist), seem to be constantly saturated with sweat, both on and off the court. Even in the last scene, where the two play against each other in a low-stakes tennis tournament, the slow motion and the never-ending dripping of sweat serves only one purpose: to convince us that tennis is sexy, goddammit!

The electronic synth-pop music that plays whenever tensions arise between characters also helps to get the blood pumping (thank you Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross!), and completely changes the way that the audience views the arguments and conflicts within the movie. Watching Tashi and Patrick have a heated argument while fast-paced techno plays in the background makes the viewer feel like an active participant in the fight.

Much like the scene where the two “make up” almost a decade later, the viewer is again caught up in the whirlwind that is Tashi and Patrick’s relationship. Through a convoluted procession of events, they end up outside at night in the middle of a windstorm, lit up by the glowing red break lights of Patrick’s car, as their hair and paper rubbish whips around them. The two stare at each other intently, after Tashi spits in Patrick’s face, while an old-timey children’s choir and church organs play, a distinct change from the club tunes that soundtracked their other encounters. Unsurprisingly, this ends with the two sleeping together in the back of Patrick’s car (which he has been living out of when he isn’t crashing at the houses of his tinder dates), while Tashi’s husband, Art, is at home with their daughter.

Art’s relationship with Tashi clearly doesn’t have the same passion or energy as with Patrick. Someone that Art is passionate about, though, is Patrick, his life-long friend from boarding school and tennis partner. In this love triangle, Art is the jealous third wheel, (probably) in love with Patrick (but in denial – happy Pride!) and infatuated with Tashi. As expected, Art manages to mansplain-manipulate-malewife his way between Tashi and Patrick, causing their breakup. Picking Tashi, Art pursues her and the two end up married, Art feeling that he has finally beat Patrick in a way he never could through tennis, and Tashi using Art as a puppet, so she can live vicariously through him after her tennis career is killed by her injury. Obviously, they are unhappily married by the time Patrick comes back on the scene, homeless and wandering around like a neglected dog, leading to his and Tashi’s affair.

But the real gem of this movie? The moment that the stakes reach their peak, when Patrick and Art, who are at their lowest – one homeless and one with a failing career – compete against each other in a tennis match for the first time in years. Through a code determined between the two over a decade ago, Patrick drops the information halfway through the match that he slept with Art’s wife the night before, making the previously boring match tenser, rougher, and of course, sweatier. I can still hear the roar of Tashi screaming ‘COME ON’ from the sidelines sometimes, like when I’m stuck in traffic behind an L-plater who can’t decide if they want to merge or not.

If you haven’t seen Challengers yet, be prepared for the 15 minutes of contemplative silence that will descend the moment the credits roll. This is a film to be savoured, dissected and digested, slowly. Some people even insist on seeing it twice (why are you looking at me?), which is a totally normal and healthy thing to do. Don’t worry, eventually the silence will be broken, when the weakest member of your watching party pipes up to say, “I think I need to play tennis.”

Jacinta Rossetto
Jacinta Rossetto

Jacinta Rossetto is a writer, artist and editor studying Creative Writing at QUT. Her passion project is a little something called Dawn Street Zine, a zine that she writes, designs, produces and scouts content for. Her favourite genres to write in are gothic and literary fiction.

Articles: 24

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