Challengers director serves fun sport drama

Photo: Contributed

Challengers is a tennis themed film that managed to capture the riveting back and forth excitement of the sport in its 131-minute run.

Starring Zendaya as retired tennis star Tashi Donaldson volleying between her ex boyfriend and husband – who also happen to be players and former best friends Patrick Zweig, played by Josh O’Connor, and Art Donaldson, played by Mike Faist – the film chronicles a steamy and seemingly never-ending love triangle between the three.

The story unfolds against the backdrop of a tennis tournament known as Challengers, as it goes back and forth along two timelines.

One timeline shows how two friends went from being teammates and best friends to foes, while the other timeline shows the present, where Tashi and Art are married with one child and trying to revitalise his competitive and professional spirit.

The jumps in time would definitely be a bit much if this were not a movie about the constant back and forth motion a tennis ball makes during a match.

This parallel is drawn quite often in the film, showing itself in the fact that Zendaya’s character is never fully sure of which side she wants to be on.

O’Connor and Faist compliment each other well; equals, peers, but different from each other in so many ways.

They’ve always competed against one another and while Patrick seems to be in the lead initially, as both the superior tennis player and the one who won Tashi’s heart, by the end of the film you might still not be sure who’s the real winner.

This is Tashi’s dilemma.

As a character, it’s clear early on that she cares very little about anything other than tennis.

In a heartbreaking flashback, we come to learn how she went from being a rising star athlete to coaching her husband through multiple victories.

We come to understand how the two of them found love with each other years after her relationship and his friendship with Patrick fell apart.

We come to see how she met the both of them at the same time, how they both wanted to be with her and how they both seem to satisfy her spirit in different ways.

What seems like a good marriage at the start of the film is quickly exposed to be something else.

As we go back and forth between the three’s interactions in the past and the face off that is taking place in the present, it feels like we too are darting our eyes back and forth.

That’s what makes this film interesting.

And what makes it hard to guess what would happen next.

You can call this film many things, but definitely not predictable.

I think O’Connor and Faist’s acting was good and their natural chemistry was inviting.

By the end of the film, I felt it was a story about their journey, if anything else.

Zendaya, on the other hand, left a lot to be desired.

I don’t know if it’s how it was scripted and how she was directed or if this is emanating from her, but I couldn’t stand the scowl she wore the entire time.

Her character, which is the case for many of this actress’ roles, seemed bored and disinterested.

While some of the visuals were breathtaking, like seeing the vantage point of the ball as it flies across the court, I feel that too much time was spent zooming in and out of the match without the plot progressing.

There were plenty of good artistic choices made, but it left some of the film a bit boring.

Overall, Challengers was a good watch.

It stirred up a lot of emotions; intrigue, anger, laughter and hope and it showcased the world of tennis in an interesting way.

– Anne Hambuda is a poet, writer and social commentator. Follow her online or email her for more.

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