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Luca Guadagnino is a master of making films that seem like summer, if nothing else. Luca Guadagnino knows how to bring hot days and warm nights to life in a way that extends beyond immediate sensation to emotional memories tied to specific times and places. This holds true for his latest release, Challengers, the sensuous tennis-themed film.

It takes an instant for the love-triangle drama to fully make sense but once it does, it is charged and exhilarating. With three exceptional performances at its core it plays as if observing movement, ambition, and grudges too deeply ingrained within the characters’ bodies that uprooting them might cause nerve damage beneath their skin. Justine Kuritzkes has written this with remarkable swiftness and opens the movie in 2019 showing the plight of struggling tennis player Art Donaldson (Mike Faist), whose former wonderkid wife Tashi Duncan (Zendaya) is now his brutal coach and business partner. Having lost a series of games, Art wants something that can boost his self-confidence; hence, Tashi signs him up for a local contest where she expects him to win easily.

Coincidentally enough one of his opponents turns out to be Patrick Zweig (Josh O’Connor) an arrogant yet charming player living out of his car – someone both Art and Tashi have had their own long complicated history with. The basis of Challengers rests on how they cross paths over 13 years; its story comes unravelled bit-by-bit. Initially disorienting in how often time moves back-and-forth through it is just glossed by Kuritzkes while he leaves breadcrumbs all along into this forest of flashbacks so we see our way through.

A more traditional screenplay would have exposed its cards far too early; instead here shifting around the timeline helps keep us guessing about what’s coming next. While this 131-minute film runs along, what we find out about each character serves to enrich not only the story but Faist, Zendaya and O’Connor’s performances as well; from their general behavior, body language and slight gestures in personal interactions.

Naturally, this oscillation is particularly apt for a film about tennis and Guadagnino together with his regular cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom come up with clever ways of rendering this visually in Challengers. In one crucial flashback, the titillating negotiations of a sexual encounter between Tashi, Art and Patrick are framed as if they were on-court action. This technique will be used again by Guadagnino with Mukdeeprom but it signals the real beginning of the movie being aesthetically different as well as emotionally unique.

Even before that turning point scene though, Guadagnino adeptly portrays how close childhood best friends Art and Patrick are with Faist and O’Connor showing us their vulnerability and ease with each other. They nonchalantly pull their chairs closer to whisper secrets while playfully savoring each other’s food. However, Tashi isn’t quite captured by the camera like the boys see her. When they first spot her at a junior rally then try to hook up during an exceedingly typical Guadagnino bash Zendaya is mostly shot from far away. It is an unflattering depiction given that this movie is all about teenage lust feelings especially because Art and Patrick’s chemistry jumps off the screen.

The trio eventually find a moment of privacy behind closed doors which helps everything fall into place. Faist and O’Connor, whose every interaction feels like a risk or dare, play both boys as superficial creatures unable to hide their professional and sexual ambitions. That means they also hurt easily, obviously. On the other hand, Zendaya’s portrayal of Tashi as a manipulative hard-as-nails femme fatale briefly exposes her to audiences in an emotional voyeurism type of way.

Nevertheless it should be mentioned that Challengers is sexy in a physical sense too. This is probably the hottest film coming from any American studio this year – it is moist with sweat and charged with muscular lunges on the court where Guadagnino would have otherwise deployed dance. With frequent shots showing scars and injuries that remind us how costly tennis can be, there are scenes in the movie which depict tennis as metaphor for conflict between people. In its view, sports becomes an obsession that reveals worldviews of different individuals as well as their upward and downward movements in relation to each other.

This is where Challengers verges on formally inventive. Not only does it capture each player’s style and subtlety during competition but it finally depicts all elements of the game through striking dizzying POV shots at various times. The field itself. The racquets used in playing these games by these people we see here today even the ball itself passing back over heads again after being kept low at base line All along Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross compose wonderfully light score influenced by European techno which not only serves to raise mid-match intensity within earworms but also crosses into dramatic moments soon afterword.The music makes Challengers feel alive like electricity flowing through one’s veins fighting for life in this brave culmination when sport speaks true emotions just like what happened to complete passion between two teams having just ended up fighting against each other.What began with such agony went ahead to end up being one of the most superlative films in this 12-month period filled with a lot of excitement.


Luca Guadagnino’s Challengers is a film that moves back and forth through time thereby creating the interactions between its central tennis trio in thrilling and precise manner. It has layered physical performances by Mike Faist, Zendaya, and Josh O’Connor which makes it one of the sexiest and most electric dramas of 2024.

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