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The Paw Print

“Challengers” changes the tennis movie game — spoilers ahead

Cici Liu

Challengers, directed by Luca Guagdagnino and written by Justin Kuritzkes, intricately weaves romance and tennis, intertwining the lives of three tennis stars from adolescence to adulthood. As the characters travel through Stanford and into Phil’s Tire Town in Atlanta, the movie centers around the emotionally charged love triangle of Patrick Zweig, played by Josh O’Connor, Art Donaldson, played by Mike Faist, and Tashi Duncan, played by Zendaya. After Tashi, the female star tennis player, suffers from a career-ending injury, moviegoers watch as she reluctantly retires from player to coach for up-and-coming players, including Art himself, all while watching Patrick and Art continue to play beyond their college years. When Art steps on the court in an attempt to boost his confidence following a losing streak, Patrick stands on the other side. With all three tennis players back in the same tournament, tensions from thirteen years previous flare up, igniting a harrowing game between the boys while Tashi judges from the stands, just as she did at eighteen when they competed for her phone number.

“Challengers” features a complex timeline with frequent time jumps and flashbacks. Viewers of “Challengers” harbor conflicting opinions about the effectiveness of the movie’s time-skips. When observed closely, these jumps build suspense, and captions provide enough context to ensure watchers do not confuse the time periods.

The movie introduces us to Patrick and Art in their senior year of high school when they win the Junior US Open for Boys Doubles. At first glance, they seemed like typical teenagers, ogling Tashi as she won the Girls Singles. However, as the movie unfolds, we see a deeper layer of their characters. Their ambition fluctuates with their relationships and professional success, a dynamic that the film explores as it delves into their past and its impact on the present.

Interestingly, “Challengers” also questions the complexity of friendship in love triangles. Patrick and Art share a bond closer than even brothers, having roomed together since they were twelve at their tennis boarding school. They clearly share everything with each other, and Tashi even raises the question of whether they may harbor romantic feelings. Nevertheless, over the course of their time knowing Tashi, the audience watches as the two boys grow apart, and Tashi even calls herself a “homewrecker.” Significantly, when Tashi and Art attend Stanford while Patrick plays professionally, the two college students form a strained friendship filled with underlying desires even as Tashi dates Patrick. “Challengers” asks viewers to question whether or not one can simply stay friends with someone they harbor romantic feelings for, and Tashi often poses the question herself with an apparent internal conflict about which boy she likes more. When mixed with romance, this additional layer of managing friendships adds a realistic tone to the movie, keeping audiences engaged and watching for more.

Building upon the initial drama of two handsome teenage boys chasing the hot and talented Stanford Girls Tennis team’s best player, the effect Tashi has on Patrick and Art extends beyond the romantic. “Challengers” expertly tackles how much people will sacrifice to fulfill their dreams, including the ones they supposedly love most.

As the movie draws to a close, the time-skips finally match up with the present, and the final scenes hone in on the intense back-and-forth of Art and Patrick’s final professional match. With its creative camerawork and effects, “Challengers” transforms a simple tennis match into an exhilarating game of dangerously fast swings and terrifyingly suspenseful serves.

Many argue about the satisfaction of the movie’s ending, with the winner of the game left unknown. The conflicts between Tashi, Art, and Patrick remain unresolved, and the film generally leaves many intriguing loose ends untied. However, in the end, “Challengers” brought tennis back into the entertainment limelight and sparked social media trends. The A-list cast drove much of the initial interest, but the unique creative choices of the movie kept viewers engaged and waiting for more. If you didn’t enjoy “Challengers” but like sports and romance, maybe take another swing at the ball and see if you can spot these elements that elevate the movie.

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About the Contributor
Ginny Cheung
Ginny Cheung, Assistant Life Editor
Grade: 11 Years on Staff: 2 Fun Fact: I'm really good at remembering names and recognizing faces. Favorite Movie: Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery
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