Zendaya smirking in Challengers. Image credit: Amazon MGM Studios

Movie Review: Challengers (2024) ***

Even Luca Guadagigno can’t make me want to watch a sports movie. My reaction to Challengers says a lot more about me and my personal tastes than it says about the movie itself: Just like a terrible, dreadful movie can push all my buttons so I love it (like Repo! The Genetic Opera), a great movie can push all my “ugh” buttons in a way that leaves me cold.

I like women. I get really bored with men. The rising female tennis star is one of the three leads in this movie; unfortunately, the movie isn’t quite as interested in Tashi as it is in Tashi’s sports-related ambitions and make-two-boys-kiss ambitions.

The boys really want to kiss, but they need an excuse. Tashi wants them to take tennis and boy-kissing more seriously and mashes them together until that happens. I know! It sounds great. Evidently, based on others’ reviews, most people think this is absolutely great.

The sports aesthetic and sheer amount of gay male-gaze testosterone sweating off the screen just made me want it to end.

(Aside from when Zendaya is in her underwear.)

I got real Machiavellian asexual vibes from Tashi, which is theoretically cool, but again — all the sports and testosterone. The way she manipulates should be cool! But it’s all about men! Making men do things. I just don’t care that much. The men are very sexual. There are dongs. There’s so many rippling abdominals. So many men sweating in locker rooms and saunas while having boy drama. It’s just…nothing I’m interested in.

But boy, can I respect it. Luca Guadagigno is still a really good director. Although I wasn’t convinced by the chemistry of Art and Patrick initially, the story made up for it. And I do enjoy the *idea* of everything that’s happening. But when something is so much about male desire, exerted in all the wrong directions (according to Tashi), I just cannot get into it.

Something about the sweaty pulsing score by Trent Reznor et al, which sounds like it should play in a gays-only gym, made this feel soapier. I caught myself thinking about May December again. May December was more overtly soapier and trashier though, whereas Challengers is glossy enough to be a Gatorade ad (sans Gatorade).

I totally see why so many people like it; I thought it was fine and also wanted it to stop. This one just call to me the way that Luca Guadagigno’s sapphic answer to Call Me By Your Name did. (Yes, I’m talking about Suspiria.) (In Guadagigno movies, twinks sweat for each other; sapphics gush blood. I know which I prefer more clearly than ever.)

(image credit: Amazon MGM Studios)

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