Ever since The Idol debuted on HBO, everyone is like, Is it good, is it bad, is The Weeknd’s acting bad on purpose or just bad, is this show as edgy as it wants to be or is it just sleazy? (No, yes, just bad, no, yes but not as much as Sam Levinson thinks it is.)
MY question, though, is: Does Luca Guadagnino’s Challengers have what The Idol wants? The trailer for Challengers, a romantic drama set in the world of Grand Slam tennis, dropped yesterday and it is SEX, it is DRAMA, it is TENNIS, and it is just a little bit sleazy that bodes well for a movie that centers on a love triangle between highly competitive athletes.
Zendaya stars as Tashi, a tennis phenom sidelined by injury before she can realize her full potential. As a teenager, she has a—flirtation? Actual throuple?—situationship with two other prodigies, Art and Patrick, played by Mike Faist and Josh O’Connor, respectively. She ends up with Art, and years later…some sh-t goes down. Is there a murder?! I am getting mastermind vibes from Tashi in the “years have passed” part of the trailer. Is she scheming? Is she stealing? Hearts if not actual money and/or lives?
I LOVE this trailer, it’s perfect. You get an idea of the story, but only hints at the larger plot, it’s a PERFECT deployment of Rihanna, and Zendaya is, as the kids say, slaying as a tennis champ forced to watch her husband and ex achieve everything she should have achieved herself. I’ve seen some Match Point comparisons, but no, I am getting Players vibes from this trailer. Players is a 1979 film starring Ali McGraw—and a young Steve Guttenberg!—about a young tennis star who falls for an older woman. It’s sexy, it’s sleazy, it’s about the worlds of sport and money. Challengers looks like Players by way of Succession. INTO IT.
Other things I love about this trailer include Mike Faist, who broke out as Riff in Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story—he will star as photographer Danny Lyons alongside Tom Hardy and Austin Butler in Jeff Nichols’ The Bikeriders, due next year—and Josh O’Connor, who is very sexy in a way I did not expect from the guy who played Prince Charles on The Crown. Also, Challengers is written by playwright Justin Kuritzkes, husband of Celine Song, whose film Past Lives uses their interracial marriage as a touchstone. Very interested to see what Celine Song’s husband can do! Also, you KNOW Zendaya saying, “I’m taking such good care of my little white boys,” is going to be a meme plastered all over Tom Holland’s face.
What I do not love, though, is the September 15 release date of Challengers (though it could, perhaps, swing a Venice premiere). Like Yorgos Lanthimos’s Poor Things starring Emma Stone, Challengers feels too major for September, a historically dead box office month. September is the doldrums, like January, it’s a month to dump movies studios don’t think will do well.
The 2023 release calendar is a total car crash, with too many films stacked on top of each other for everything to find space to succeed—The Flash is at least partially a victim of this overscheduling—so I understand utilizing September in a way it has not been before, but that does not mean what looks good on paper is going to work out in real life. September is a dead box office month in part because school has resumed, and everyone is a little depressed after the official end of summer. It’s the transitory period between summer blockbuster season and serious award season, and you’re not going to recondition an audience to go to the theater in September that fast. Some, if not all, of these movies are going to fail simply because people are not in the habit of going to the theater in September.
I just hope no one holds box office performance against Challengers and Poor Things if they fail to draw audiences in September. Both of these movies look excellent, if they pan out and people still don’t show up, that’s on September, not the movies.
Attached – more of Zendaya at the Louis Vuitton show last night.