‘Challengers’ Review – A Sexy, Stylish Big-Screen Grand Slam

Originally set to release last September but being delayed due to the strikes, Luca Guadagnino’s tennis flick Challengers has finally hit the big screen to much excitement and anticipation. The story follows Tashi, a tennis player turned coach who has transformed her husband Art into a world-famous Grand Slam champion. In an attempt to boost his confidence and break his losing streak, she signs him for a ‘Challenger’ event, a lower-level pro tournament, where he finds himself standing across the net from his former best friend and Tashi’s former boyfriend. With magnetic performances from the leads, expert cinematography, an engaging dual timeline and a heart-pounding original score, Challengers is a slam dunk worth waiting for.

The story of Challengers is incredibly effective, which is a testament to how it is told. Utilizing a dual timeline perspective to fill us in on the rocky relationship between the three leads in the many years leading up to this match, the stakes are increased scene by scene. When Art arrives at this match, and the audience sees who he is facing for the first time, we don’t think anything of it. However, as the plot progresses and we learn the backstory, we realize what is at stake for these characters, how badly they both need to win and what they’ve got to lose. Between break-ups, infidelity and mind games, the match is both terrifying and important for all three of our characters, not just the two either side of the net. Challengers is not only a sports drama but an exploration of rivalry and power play, using tennis as both a reality and a metaphor for their complex love triangle. This all creates an increasingly tense atmosphere and makes for an edge-of-your-seat final ten minutes where our two ‘white boys’ – as labeled by Tashi – fight to come out on top. This is about more than just winning a game of tennis.


With in-depth exploration of love and sex, Challengers relies on the chemistry between its three leads; luckily, they’re on fire. Zendaya, Mike Faist and Josh O’Connor not only give great performances in their own right but work superbly well together. Their chemistry is off the charts and tangible from start to finish – from the way they glance across the court at each other to making out passionately in an empty parking lot, they’re consistently believable. With steamy scenes aplenty, Challengers succeeds in its attempt to be seductive and quite simply – hot. Zendaya’s Tashi, out of the game due to injury, seems to only want one thing – her husband Art to become what she didn’t have the chance to. Acting as more of a coach than a Wife, she’s often cold and harsh and will stop at nothing to ensure his success. It’s a different type of role for Zendaya, and she manages to turn in her best work yet. Art is played superbly by Mike Faist, who delivers a very complex turn. He craves his Tashi’s love and respect, and is willing to ditch his lifelong best friend to win it. That being said, he’s not emotionally satisfied with his relationship and craves normalcy – but does this want to overcome his desire to be a champion? Ex-best friend of Art and ex-lover of Tashi is Patrick, played by Josh O’Connor. Down on his luck, living out of his car and not as successful as his early career suggested he would be, Patrick needs this win – not only for the money but to prove to Tashi that she made the wrong choice by choosing Art all those years ago. Despite marriages and children, these three characters remain under each other’s spell. The characters are well-developed, and the performances are magnetic.

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The technical aspects of Challengers are magnificent, giving the film so much personality and style. The cinematography is both consistently engaging and utterly unique. The filming of the tennis scenes is what makes said scenes shine, from close-ups of the beads of sweat on our player’s foreheads to moments where the camera is acting as the ball and speedily bouncing between both sides of the court. This makes for a high-energy, intimate and stylish watch that ensures its sporty scenes are as exciting as they can be. This playful camerawork continues even into the conversations between our leads, seeing the camera bouncing between them swiftly, very much like a tennis match – it’s very clever and immersive. The cinematography does many things we rarely see and is experimental in the best way possible. The original score from recent Guadagnino collaborators Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross is loud, well-crafted and larger than life, becoming a character of its own. Matching the tone of the movie effortlessly, the thumping, pounding synth-like house tunes make even the more laidback scenes full of energy and life. It’s one of the best scores of the year thus far.

Challengers continues director Luca Guadagnino’s winning streak, adding to his roster of unique, sensual, character-focused films. The score is memorable, the cinematography is playfully excellent and the story is unlike anything we’ve seen before. Zendaya, Faist and O’Connor are better than they have ever been, all managing to be both intimidating and swoon-worthy. With a jaw-dropping visual style, bundles of color and energy, and high-intensity tennis sequences paired with daringly hot steamy scenes, Challengers is a big-screen grand slam.


‘Challengers’ Review – A Sexy, Stylish Big-Screen Grand Slam

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