A Simple Story Turned Into A Skillful Epic


The cast of “Challengers” is excellent. Mike Faist is a standout, playing Art, a character who is just as ambitious in love — and tennis — as his scruffier, more handsome friend Patrick (Josh O’Connor), but who grew up in the shadow of Patrick’s rough-hewn charm. As teens, Art and Patrick were friendly enough to give each other tongue kisses. As adults, they have abandoned their homosocial closeness to vie for the affection of a woman, Tashi, (Zendaya) who comes between them.

“Challengers” begins with a professional tennis match played by Art and Patrick in 2019. Looking on stonily is Art’s wife Tashi. The flashbacks explain how all three of them were once teen tennis prodigies, and how they bonded over the above-mentioned makeout session. Tashi is rich and talented and poised to be the tennis world’s next superstar. She initially dates Patrick, following him to college, but Tashi leaves Patrick when he won’t accept her tennis coaching or abandon his flippant, noncommittal relationship with the sport. Tashi explains that tennis isn’t a game, but a relationship on the court. That heavy-handed line will come into play repeatedly during a climactic tennis match back in the present.

Tashi is eventually attracted to Art, as he was there when she sustained a grievous injury and proved himself amenable to her coaching. Tashi wants only to win, be it hearts or games. She and Art will eventually marry and have a child (we see their connubial “bliss” at the outstart), but their marriage will also carry a note of staleness and resentment. “Challengers” is about growing from the idealism of youth, through the idiot mistakes of your 20s, and into a husked-out early 30s.

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