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‘Challengers’ Has Ignited ‘Throuple’ Discourse — One Polyamorous Couple Weighs In

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Two young men sit on either side of a young woman on two hotel beds pushed together
Mike Faist as Art, Zendaya as Tashi and Josh O’Connor as Patrick in That Scene from Luca Guadagnino's 'Challengers.' (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc.)

Sweat in slow-mo, relentless EDM and staggering chemistry are just a few highlights of Challengers, the Zendaya-starring film about a trio of tennis players that’s lit up group chats nationwide. All over the internet, fans are posting photos of their favorite love triangles — Roy, Keeley and Jamie from Ted Lasso; Nora, Hae Sung and Arthur from Past Lives — with the caption, “Three tickets to Challengers please.” It’s the film that’s launched a thousand Twitter threads about throuples.

I sat down with Izzy and Mary, polyamorous partners in the Bay Area, to get their thoughts on Challengers. Below, they chat about their favorite scenes, phallic churros, yonic tennis rackets and the dynamics that took them back to being young and intimate with more than one partner.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Note: Spoilers and swearing ahead.

Olivia Cruz Mayeda: What were your first impressions of Challengers?

Mary: It’s not a rule book for how to date, but it’s a very good fantasy. I love that it was a movie that purported to be about a relationship, but really was about winning.

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Izzy: I was so entertained throughout. Even when it was slower-paced, it was so rich with these tense scenes. And even though it was super sexual, I didn’t feel like it was over the top. It was really contained and just purposeful. It wasn’t like everything would be solved if Patrick and Art fucked or something. It was way more layered.

Two young men in profile talking in front of window
Mike Faist as Art and Josh O’Connor as Patrick in ‘Challengers.’ (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc.)

I was surprised by how layered the characters were. What felt nuanced about their relationship dynamics to y’all?

Izzy: The way in which flirting and jealousy is explored — Patrick doesn’t demonize Art for being jealous, even when he’s low-key sabotaging Patrick’s relationship. He’s turned on by it. He’s like, ‘You little snake, I see what you’re doing.’ They both fulfill each character’s competitive spirit and drive.

Mary: That’s what makes the movie hot. It’s kinky. There’s a certain amount of ambiguity around consent because, of course, cheating and infidelity is bad. But then there’s this question: Is anything fair game if it’s in the service of tennis?

Izzy: Even at the end, where Art and Patrick have this secret language that Tashi is not in on, she’s like, ‘Fuck yeah, come on!’ And she gets what she wants out of it, which is to watch some really good fucking tennis.

Internet discourse about Challengers has really honed in on throuples. Would you say Tashi, Art and Patrick are a throuple?

Mary: It sells itself as being a film about a throuple. But this is not how throuples work in ethical ways.

Man and woman in close-up looking at each other
Mike Faist as Art and Zendaya as Tashi in ‘Challengers.’ (Niko Tavernise/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc.)

So … are they an unethical throuple?

Mary: Oh, yes! I mean, there’s no communication. So from that perspective, I would want to draw that line. But I think it’s a fantasy, and it’s a really effective fantasy.

Izzy: I feel like the movie is not about a throuple. It’s about three people’s different intersections of relating with one another. Even in that scene where [Tashi] makes all of them kiss, she steps away.

Speaking of that first intimate scene between all three characters, what stood out to you?

Izzy: It is a very realistic threesome that happens between 18-year-olds or young adults, who don’t know those forms of communication. You’ve got two horny guys who are totally simping for her and also for each other. And they have some beer and they’re in the afterglow of flirting.

Mary: When I’ve experienced a situation with more than one person, there are all of these side conversations to check around consent, and what is and isn’t okay. I think that kind of awkward conversation, and allowing for the stumbling and the awkwardness, and not being sure what is going to happen or if everyone is attracted to everyone else — I thought that was really sweet. I felt like I was promised ‘the boys being gay,’ and it was actually just so tender.

Back of man as he faces woman in red-lit dark scene
Josh O’Connor as Patrick and Zendaya as Tashi in ‘Challengers.’ (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc.)

Izzy: There’s that scene where Patrick pulls Art’s stool closer to him with his foot. There’s just little things that feel quite tender.

Mary: Yeah, where it’s not coded as ‘gay intimacy,’ but just coded as intimacy.

You also mentioned before that Challengers is a fantasy. What feels different about the reality of three people being interested in each other?

Mary: So last summer, there was a situation where the two of us and a friend of ours were talking late at night, and there was this desire. And of course, we’re partnered — and not just doubles partners. There’s this question of, ‘Will anything happen?’ And then it was, like, oh … we actually all just want to go to sleep, which is maybe the being-in-your-30s version.

A lot of time, there’s a possibility of a ‘no.’ But that doesn’t make for good cinema.

Izzy: This movie just reminds me of also being young and inexperienced. I’ve experienced that kind of threesome dynamic, where all of a sudden you find yourself in it, and you’re like, ‘I’ve never done this before, I’m young, I’m on the ride.’ And then in retrospect, you realize how much care is involved in sexual intimacy, especially when there’s multiple parties involved.

So, all in all?

Izzy: Great movie. Ten out of ten.

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