San Diego's Morning News with Ted and LaDona

San Diego's Morning News with Ted and LaDona

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At The Movies With Josh: Challenger

Italian director Luca Guadagnino is a gay man, who…doesn’t really understand heterosexual relationships. Well, strike that. He just doesn’t understand relationships. Of any kind. The critically praised “Call Me By Your Name” had its moments, and great performances, but he had a caring father praise his 17-year-old son for the loving relationship he had with a man that looked 20 years older (and was a colleague of his dad). It also wasn’t very “loving” but more about lust. I wondered at the time if a dad would not only admit he doesn’t have that kind of love with the boy’s mother, but if this much older man was having a relationship with his 17-year-old virgin daughter, would he feel the same?

His movie “Suspiria” had Dakota Johnson joining a dance academy in Berlin that is run by witches. It was awful. 

But I want to stick to talking about how often Guadagnino drops the ball when it comes to relationships. Now while I did kind of like “Bones and All” it involves a high school girl getting involved in a sexual relationship (again, sexualizing teenagers; and to think, we always felt it was creepy when Woody Allen did movies with a much older character going after a woman in her early 20s, because we knew, and it was proven – that’s what Allen himself would prefer; but I digress).

So as young tennis stars, with Zendaya’s character being the most successful of the three, she basically bullies these two guys to do sexual stuff with her while she smugly takes it all in. Hmm, wonder how this would play if it was a boy doing this to two girls. Also, the way the two boys end up making out with each other is totally unrealistic. Probably just a fantasy of the director. But that does lead to another problem, and that’s with casting Mike Faist. When he opened “West Side Story” coming out of a trailer with a girl he was just with, I thought – really? You don’t seem like someone that likes girls (not that there’s anything wrong with that). And I felt the same with his character here, yet we’re supposed to buy that he’s always been madly in love with Zendaya’s character Tashi.

Basically, there’s not a single thing in this movie that seems remotely like anything any person would do in real life. It’s all so utterly ridiculous. And I’d think if there’s going to be a love triangle, we should at least find a few of the characters interesting, or a rooting interest. Instead, we realize soon enough, they’re all horrible people. You won’t care about any of them.

It starts with two tennis stars – Art Donaldson (Faist) and Patrick Zweig (Josh O’Connor, who is the only one with decent acting here), in a tennis match. Flashbacks show they were best friends and rising teenage stars, along with Tashi.

She’s got all the sponsorships and attention, but we see that an injury derails her career, and she now coaches (and is married to) Art. The flashbacks were odd. Now, in the terrific film “(500) Days of Summer” they went with all kinds of random days in the couples relationship, and that was an interesting technique. Here, the story jumps back to 12 years earlier, when the three met. Then we get a few years after that to see that Tashi is in a relationship with Patrick, and Art is jealous and subtly tries to sabotage it.

We get flashbacks that are 13 years prior. And we get flashbacks that are a week earlier. Although it doesn’t really matter, because we get the gist. Tashi is an awful person, and she manipulates everyone in her path. 

I’ve often felt Zendaya had the same problem Anna Kendrick did – always looking 13-years-old, and I can’t buy either playing adults (Leonardo DiCaprio had that for years, too). But after Zendaya’s great performance in the criminally underrated “Malcolm & Marie”, and here, she’s fine for the role (especially since things start out with her as a teenager). The guys and her also seem to have decent form on the tennis court (and about the only thing I liked in this movie were some of the shots showing tennis balls coming at the camera). The shaky-cam in the third act got ridiculous.

Speaking of ridiculous, the dialogue was ridiculous, too. And it’s one of the rare times a score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross didn’t work. The pulsating, throbbing synth sounds, made you feel like you were in a rave. Yet they’d play this music during normal dialogue. It made absolutely no sense. 

Spending two hours watching this garbage (which my wife agreed was awful), I have to place it on my “worst of the year” list. It’s amazing that so many pretentious critics are praising it (it’s at 95% on Rotten Tomatoes, as if you need another reason to not bother with that website).

0 stars.

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