Movie Review: ‘Challengers’

by | Apr 26, 2024 | Featured Post, Movie Reviews, Movies | 0 comments

Greetings again from the darkness. Director Luca Guadagnino continues to prove that he excels at making gorgeous-looking movies featuring gorgeous-looking actors. Previous proof includes SUSPIRIA (2018), CALL ME BY YOUR NAME (2017), A BIGGER SPLASH (2015), and now this latest, with a screenplay by Justin Kuritzkes. If you are looking for a film that oozes flashy style and sex appeal, you’ve chosen the right movie. You can even pretend it’s a tennis movie, though you’re not likely to fool anyone.
Zendaya (DUNE: PART 2, 2024, DUNE, 2021, “Euphoria”) stars as Tashi, a rising young tennis protégé when we meet her in flashback. Doubles partners and best friends, Art Donaldson (Mike Faist, WEST SIDE STORY, 2021) and Patrick Zweig (Josh O’Connor, EMMA., 2020) are immediately smitten by Tashi’s stunning looks and equally stunning tennis talent. She toys with the boys as they strive for her attention … leading to a hilarious and surprisingly escalated encounter in a hotel room. It’s the first, but not the last time a sexual encounter plays a part with these three. It’s likely the Intimacy Coordinator was on set most every day of shooting.

As best I can tell, the story covers about a 13-year period from juniors to the professional level, although the tennis balls bounce on the court less frequently than the time period bounces around as the stories unfold. And actually, the tennis serves as a means to an end. The real drama and competition comes from the relationships: Art and Patrick, Patrick and Tashi, Tashi and Art, and Tashi and Art and Patrick. Yes, tennis is an integral part of this since it forged the bonds – heck, it’s sometimes difficult to discern tennis talk from pillow talk – yet it’s the personal dramas that make the film what it is.

All three leads are excellent, yet somehow Zendaya’s performance stands out … even beyond Josh O’Connor who delivers his best performance to date. Her lithe physique passes for a tennis player despite the lack of muscle tone that would accompany an athlete, yet her movements work. The players move on the court and make the strokes, while CGI handles the ball movements at an accelerated pace (reminding us this isn’t really a movie about tennis). Initially, the club dance beat of the score from Oscar winners Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross seems an odd choice, yet it becomes the perfect fit as things progress. Guadagnino re-teams with cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom to create some fantastic and creative shots, even making the tennis exciting. Editor Marco Costa deserves a shoutout as well.

With Hollywood’s overdose of caution these days when it comes to sexuality, the energy here feels a bit naughty at times. The shifting power dynamics of this trio reminds of the “Seinfeld” episode where characters discuss having “hand” in a relationship. Of course, Guadagnino takes this one much farther, although it’s every bit as entertaining. And that’s the best way to think of this – a big ol’ movie that lets us enjoy and even laugh a bit. It’s a wild ride and it’s gorgeous.

Opens in theaters on April 26, 2024

David Ferguson