Film Review – Challengers



Director Luca Guadagnino (Call Me by Your NameSuspiria) tackles the world of competitive tennis and complicated relationships in Challengers (2024), with a script by Justin Kuritzkes. Somehow, a trio of actors that most of us would not think to put together into this kind of film works (and it really works), but that’s why casting director Francine Maisler is an expert in her craft.  

Challengers pits three characters against or with each other at different points of the story. Tennis doubles partners Art Donaldson (Mike Faist) and Patrick Zweig (Josh O’Connor) are competing at the Junior U.S. Open and doing well when they decide to watch an up-and-coming Tashi Duncan (Zendaya) compete.  Entranced by her beauty and powerful form on the court, it is apparent that the boys are smitten with Tashi and are the epitome of love-smacked cartoon characters, with their eyes bulging out of their heads and tongues wagging.  Tripping over themselves, they attend Tashi’s afterparty, thrown in her honor.  Somehow, these immature teenage boys make themselves appealing to Tashi, and the trio has an interesting night.  This first night leads to years of trials, tribulations, and on-and-off relationships.


The grounding scene and point in time is a challenger match at some unimportant tennis competition.  It is Art versus Patrick, and Tashi is watching the match, sitting smack dab in the middle of the two sides.  Patrick is a certified tennis pro, and Tashi has made this match his side quest for a better performance.  The audience’s outlook on what is happening at this match continues to evolve as the film progresses.  The film starts and ends with this match, a high-stakes game like none other.  The scene’s setup reminds me of a joust, with the princess in the middle and the two knights competing for her attention and favor.

The film does not focus on romance or first love. The complicated relationships between the three characters evolve and devolve multiple times. It is a competition to win a tennis match and be the best athlete; it is also a competition to win Tashi’s love. Unfortunately, her love is conditional.  Tashi is stricken with a tiresome need to win and be the best, aka The GOAT, regardless of her position in life.  She takes the game more seriously than Patrick and Art, so Tashi’s life falls apart when she receives an injury during a competitive match, an injury that changes the trajectory of her life and her relationship with both boys.

There is no denying that this film is on fire.  It is rife with crazy teenage hormones, sexual tension, and beautiful people placed in scenes that will evoke a hot-under-the-collar audience.  The film’s trailers may give the audience a taste of what they may experience, but it is safe to say that Guadagnino knows how to shoot such scenes without nudity or being sexually explicit and still make them hot and steamy.  The chemistry between the trio of stars certainly helps.


While the boys may be bumbling about in life, someone is pulling the strings: Tashi.  It is evident throughout the film that Tashi is a master manipulator.  Relationships are not necessary unless they benefit her.  The boys are playthings, even after she marries one of them.  She is keen to make the most out of her life, mandating that she always stay on top, no matter the situation.  It is alarming the callousness she feels towards her relationships, save for her mother and daughter.  She wants equal footing with her husband, regardless of her not playing tennis anymore, and has cultivated a public image of beauty and tense but unending support of her husband.

Challengers is a hell of a film.  Never in my life have I cackled at such a tense few last minutes of a film, fidgeting in my seat, waiting for the bomb to drop.  The ending has an ingenious twist of fate, but just seeing the relationships evolve between Tashi, Art, and Patrick over the years that the film encompasses is enough to keep it entertainingly complex, even if it is sometimes diabolical.  The accompaniment of techno or electric-type music as a score by none other than Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross is initially quizzical but comes to fit the film’s rhythm.  It is a film in which everything fits together perfectly like puzzle pieces, making Challengers one of the most exciting, sexy, and provocative films of the year.  




Sarah resides in Dallas where she writes about films and trailers in her spare time when she is not taking care of her animals at the zoo.

You can reach her via email or on Twitter

View all posts by this author