Meshuga For Movies: Challengers

Meshuga For Movies Challengers review

I’ve honestly never watched even a split second of tennis in my life until now — and I think I may have been missing out.

Challengers is a romance drama that follows a steamy and intense love triangle from high school up until 30s, keeping us on our toes the entire time. Tashi Duncan is a smart and talented tennis prodigy that gets caught up between two friends, Art (Mike Faist) and Patrick (Josh O’Connor), two tennis players who have been close since 12 years old (so close, in fact, that Patrick taught Art how to wank off). They both obsess over Tashi, who seems to be enjoying the build up, even making the two share a now infamous kiss while she watches, satisfied, from right next to them on the bed.

Tashi ends up dating Patrick but Art never stops loving her, although he tries not to intervene at first. The relationship starts to falter on its own when Tashi and Patrick begin to have serious fights over her need to control him and his tennis career. This is something that Art desires and she ends up marrying him and becoming his coach after a serious injury leaves her unable to play. The two have a child and build a sports dynasty around his name but things aren’t exactly what they seem, especially when Patrick shows up to have an intense match against Art at a local tournament.

But the match is more than just a tennis match. It lasts throughout the entirety of the film, with the intensity only increasing as we get closer and closer to its end. The two men are screaming, sweating, whacking tennis balls at an incredible pace — you’ll find yourself stiff, grabbing your seat, teeth gritted together without even realizing it.

Intertwined between the match is the story, which jumps around in time but somehow all makes sense and just builds up the suspense and drama of it all. We learn of each characters’ secrets, bad behavior, and continued struggles with one another and tennis. We see Art struggling to stay passionate about pro tennis, clearly only competing to appease his headstrong wife, Tashi. We see her losing her love for Art now that his career is ending, questioning her decisions and if it’s all worth it. We see Patrick failing to have the career he once dreamed of, staying afloat with hookups and overnights in parking lots as he continues to fantasize about Tashi.

We ultimately learn that the tennis match is about more than Patrick proving himself worthy of pro tennis or Art staying inspired to play. Per usual, it’s all about Tashi (but moreso each other) — but I won’t spoil the unique way in which that’s the case. And I won’t spoil the twist that had my boyfriend and I gasping as it all unfolds, the tension easing but replaced by pure shock, wonder, and awe. Yes, all while watching a tennis match.

The underlying sexual tension between Art and Patrick is another major theme throughout the film. It’s perhaps even more tantalizing, inspiring, and powerful than what the two feel towards Tashi. It’s almost like she is just a distraction, an excuse. But it’s always just a tease or a fleeting “will they, won’t they.” The future of the trio is left up to us to ponder, which is the kind of ending I like, but may leave some unsatisfied and possibly accusing the film of “queer baiting.”

The real source of the tension, perhaps, is the score. Throughout the film, the intensity of the music is what truly kept me engaged. It would even continue to play loudly while people talked, argued — something that usually wouldn’t work but made this film even more of a thrill ride. During the tennis matches it was especially brilliant. It’s worth experiencing this film for the score alone. But the sultriness and sportiness are close seconds as to why this film is one of my favorites of the year.

Review By the Numbers:

Acting — 9/10

No complaints from me when it comes to the actors. They all embodied their roles perfectly, seeming so real that the two main male leads felt like they plucked some tennis players from a match and plopped them onto set. The relationships, dialogue, and character dynamics felt real and raw. Some lines were a bit melodramatic but the characters delivered them exceptionally well.

Cinematography — 9/10

The unique and stylized choices throughout the film left me breathless. Sometimes we were watching an athlete’s pure strength and agility, hearing them scream with raw aggression. Other times the camera would zoom in and we’d become the ball, bouncing around between Patrick and Art as intensely as their own secret love for each other. Oop. Every scene felt beautiful and intentional in how it was shot. There was always something that felt it was provoking me to feel something or think something in every scene, even if it wasn’t the main focus.

Jewishness — 1/10

I don’t think I thought about being Jewish at all during the movie’s 2 hours and 11 minute run time except for a scene where Patrick is eyeing a bagel. Even then, the bagel was from Dunkin’, which is basically not a bagel by Jewish standards.

How Much I Want to Watch Tennis Now — 3/10

I’ll be real with you — I still have no desire to watch tennis. I mean unless the dudes are making out on the court, but I doubt it.

Story — 7/10

I wouldn’t call the film’s plot groundbreaking but the way Director Luca Guadagnino tells the story is. Weaving the story in a non-linear fashion during the course of a tennis match and allowing us to slowly understand the significance of the match in surprising ways is what kept me curious despite it being your typical love triangle. This movie explores the themes of love, heartbreak, desire, and homoeroticism in ways that are gritty, exciting, and real.

Score — 10/10

I already discussed this but I will say I thought about the music and how it really gripped me throughout the movie even after it was done. It stood out to me more than a score usually does. It was intentional, powerful, and unnerving.

The Kiss — 8/10

The iconic kissing scene actually happens very early on in the film. After learning that Patrick and Art have been basically life-long friends that room together and share crushes, Tashi can’t help but flex her power over the boys by having them make out in front of her. While hesitant for a split second, the two definitely go at it. And seeing Tashi’s satisfied glare in the back, like a villain emerging from the dark in a Disney cartoon, made it all the more mesmerizing. The tension is clearly there as time goes on but largely ignored, making this not a true representation of the film’s overall run time — although it’s possible that it ends in the same way after the cameras shut off. Maybe.

Overall: 7/10

A must-watch but NOT Jewish.