At first glance, Luca Guadagnino’s upcoming tennis film “Challengers” — which recently pulled out of the Venice Film Festival and delayed its theatrical release due to the ongoing SAG-AFTRA strike — might seem like it covers familiar narrative territory for the director.
Zendaya stars as a successful tennis coach who becomes embroiled in a love triangle with her professional tennis player husband (Josh O’Connor) and his friend and rival who happens to be her ex-boyfriend. The queer undertones that emerge seem to evoke past works from the desire-obsessed director, such as “Call Me By Your Name.” But Guadagnino has resisted comparisons to his other works, calling the film “first comedy” as a director.
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In a new profile in V, O’Connor spoke about his “Challengers” director’s sense of humor. As it turns out, Guadagnino appreciates R-rated American comedies as much as arthouse classics.
“Actually, there was one night when we had dinner with Amy and Luca — we were all together in Boston and we were talking about our favorite movies,” O’Connor said. “It was quite early on, and I remember being like, ‘Oh my god, they’re about to come to me.’ I’ve got to think of something artistic to impress Luca and then something fun that doesn’t make me seem like a snob. And then I remember it coming around to me, and I said ‘Accattone,’ which is a brilliant but niche Italian movie. And Luca looked really impressed, and I thought, ‘Well done, Josh.’ And, of course, my favorite film is ‘Superbad,’ which ticked a massive box for Amy. And Luca loves ‘Superbad’ — everyone loves ‘Superbad.'”
Despite the lack of obvious parallels between Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s raunchy teen comedy and Guadagnino’s upcoming tennis drama, O’Connor said that he connects “Superbad” and “Challengers” as movies that will reward multiple rewatches.
“Then afterwards, they asked me why I liked ‘Superbad,’ and I think one of the things about a film like ‘Superbad’ is that I could just watch it over and over again. And I’m not saying that ‘Challengers’ is like ‘Superbad’ in any way, but I think ‘Challengers’ has the potential,” he said. “It can be one of those films that you can just keep watching because it’s such a thrill. It’s like a drug. The excitement just drives you right through to the film, and it doesn’t feel long. You don’t labor through it. So for me, that’s our biggest achievement — the fact that someone would want to go back and watch it again. That’s a really great compliment, I think.”
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