A tennis match is a relationship. In Luca Guadagnino’s latest movie “Challengers”, tennis is a provocative love triangle between coach, former tennis wonderkid, Tashi Duncan (Zendaya) and the two tennis players Patrick (Josh O’ Connor) and Art (Mike Faist).

Tashi signs up her husband Art Donaldson, a star player forged by her tough-love coaching, for a Challenger tournament to help him get his confidence back, in response to a losing streak that’s putting a strain on their professional and personal relationship. Art will have to go head-to-head with Patrick Zweig, his old best friend and Tashi’s former lover during college, in a match dripping with rivalry and past complicity.

From this premise and pivotal match unfolds a daring and electrifying sports drama that, like a tennis ball, bounces back and forth through time via flashbacks, uncovering the power play and ambitions of the three protagonists. Although off-court, Zendaya steals the spotlight, channeling a commanding and alluring Tashi. For the coach, every shot is aimed at victory, and every conversation revolves around tennis; even when not talking about sports, even after the injury that costs her a pro career. Justin Kuritzkes makes his cinema screenwriting debut alongside Guadagnino, but it ain’t without its flaws. The ethnicity and class discourse is barely scratched on the surface, missing a chance to dig deep into Tashi’s character.

Zendaya finds her groove in “Challengers,” exploring her full potential. She brings in Tashi pain and frustration that temper her stubbornness, redeeming her, at least partially, from betrayals and dirty play. Her flawless performance is matched by Faist’s subdued portrayal of Art, reflecting the weariness of years spent trying to meet his wife’s expectations. O’Connor, cocky and cash-strapped, is irresistible in all his cheekiness. Behind his winking smiles lies a blatant egotism that clashes with the coach’s tenacity, of whom he is still hopelessly in love, creating an exciting chemistry that jumps off the screen. A sensuality that extends to his relationship with Faist, on the verge of homoeroticism hinted at by moans on the court and bananas bitten during the tiebreak.

It’s all about the glances. A back-and-forth over the span of thirteen years, that feels repetitive at time, given the film’s length. But the tension is thick and palpable, muscles flexing in slow-motion amplify the frenzy. Sayombhu Mukdeeprom’s cinematography complements the athletic prowess, experimenting with viewpoints, even taking on the perspective of a tennis ball. Marco Costa’s brisk editing keeps you hooked, while the sound design thrusts you into the action, heartbeat syncing with every swing.

Bickering to the beats of synthetic techno alternating with defeats crowned by heavenly chants, crafting a climax that never disappoints, right up to the final shot. The duo Reznor and Ross returns, after collaborating with Guadagnino on the previous success “Bones and All”, scoring a soundtrack that captivates and disorients, feeling like the sweat of athletes moistening the camera lens is up to be replaced by that of ravers under the strobe lights

Guadagnino knows how to make tennis riveting even for the non-believers, thanks to a kinetic film that can be considered his best to date, stylistically. It’s dynamic and funny, young and brash. A top-notch tennis flick for the sports nuts, a sublime exploration of desire for the carnal connoisseurs.



Director: Luca Guadagnino
Date: 24 aprile 2024
Genre: Drama, Sentimental
Year: 2024
Producers: Amy Pascal, Rachel O’Connor, Luca Guadagnino, Zendaya
Executive Producers: Bernard Bellew, Lorenzo Mieli
Studios: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Pascal Pictures
Writer: Justin Kuritzkes
Cinematography: Sayonbhu Mukdeeprom
Editor: Marco Costa
Costume Design: Jonathan Anderson
Production Design: Merissa Lombardo
Composers: Trent Reznor e Atticus Ross


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