A movie theater experience: watching “Challengers” 

Spoilers! Do not read if you haven’t seen the film and don’t want it to be spoiled.  

In a world where going to the theater to watch a movie is becoming a rarity, it’s important to reflect on and reminisce about whether the movie you’ve just splurged $15 on was worth seeing right away. Luckily, my group and I only spent $7.50 each on tickets for the new movie “Challengers,” a pop culture movie featuring the effervescent Zendaya. Coming to theaters late April of this year, the film was directed by Luca Guadagnino, director of “Call Me by Your Name,” if you know it. Personally, I love “Call Me by Your Name.” Though unconventional, Guadagnino used acting to accentuate intimacy, as opposed to constant dialogue. He does the same in “Challengers,” but it’s the premise that throws viewers for a loop. Let me expand on that. 

“Challengers” has a nonlinear narrative structure. Jumping back and forth between past and present, the film describes the story of two best friends, Patrick Zweig (Josh O’Connor) and Art Donaldson (Mike Faist). They both love tennis, being coined “Fire and Ice” as skillful doubles partners while in high school. After winning the boys’ juniors doubles title at the U.S. Open, they meet Tashi Duncan (Zendaya), a highly lauded girls’ tennis player. From then on unfolds a competition between the blasé, naturally talented romancer, Patrick, and the sensitive and endearing hard worker, Art, to “woo” the critically acclaimed and gorgeous Tashi, which eventually causes an irreparable rift between the best friends.  

Evidently, the jaw-dropping twist is that in the present day in the film (which is set in 2019), Tashi and Art are married, and Art is a professional tennis player who keeps losing. As his coach, Tashi decides to make him play at a tennis match at a small country club — to embarrass him, evidently, but also to bring up his confidence as he demolishes townies. Further, his main roadblock on the road to victory is his good old friend Patrick, who lives out of his car and uses Tinder to find where he’s staying each night. This rattles Art to the core, as he has never beaten Patrick in tennis! Crazy twist, huh? 

Viewers watch in horror and awe as Tashi (Zendaya) makes questionable choices and voices concerning morals (yes, she does cheat on Art with Patrick, and yes, she and Art do have a daughter). In the entire movie, it’s quite difficult to pick a side. Manipulative Tashi, immature and deadbeat Patrick and … Art? Did Art do anything wrong? Besides severing ties with Patrick after he and Tashi had a fight (I’m still confused about that one) and marrying Tashi, nothing comes to mind.  

Drawing of tennis and cinema pariphenalia. Drawing by Sisa Pallchisaca.

Outside of this insane love triangle (“Zendaya threesome movie”), I feel it’s important to note the bizarre cinematography. Besides the slightly confusing nonlinear narrative structure, towards the end of the film, the plot solely focuses on the big game with present-day Patrick and Art. Instead of a normal broadcast of a tennis match, the cinematography draws out plays for forever, to allow viewers a nice, juicy zoom-in of the sweatiest men in the world. I’m sure that tennis on a hot day is very taxing, but must we view every pore of these men? Serves were slowed down and drawn out for “suspense,” I think. Was it really suspense if one of my friends left to go to the bathroom during another serve, only to miss the incredibly abrupt ending? He thought the cinematography would focus on another five minutes of tennis serves! I think my favorite touch to the camera angle was when we got to see the point of view of the tennis ball. As silly as it is, I think the tennis ball POV was creative, though those prone to motion sickness might disagree.  

Regarding the ending, I was simply confused. I thought the hug and the “make-up” was sweet, but I didn’t understand Tashi’s joy. Was it really a “Zendaya threesome movie”? Were they ALL going to become a throuple? Is that how everything is resolved?! Was that even a resolution? 

All I can say is that this brings me back to my initial point. I do think that it was worthwhile spending money to see this bonkers film, because I got to go with a group of about eight people and we got to have the same confusing experience. My seatmate and I whispered to each other and gasped whenever Tashi was cheating. After the film, we stood in a circle, debriefed it and decided that the moral is that Zendaya says cheating is okay (joking). It is true that watching movies at home on streaming sites is more intimate and more easily accessible — after all, that’s where I watched “Saltburn” with a couple of close friends. All this is to say that the theater is fun because you can watch movies with larger groups of people and it is a shared experience with that larger group of people; it’s almost like a concert!