Challengers Drama

Review: ‘Challengers’ Serves Up a Winning Combo of On-the-Court Tennis Action and Off-the-Court Drama

April 22, 2024Ben MK

When you combine sports with movies, the result is usually a feel-good underdog story like Rocky, Bend It Like Beckham or Rudy. On the rare occasion, though, you might end up with a film like Jerry Maguire or The Wrestler, which bucks the usual cinematic trend in favor of a narrative told from a different perspective. It's a refreshing change of pace that immediately sets apart such movies from the pack. And with the aptly titled Challengers, that's exactly what director Luca Guadagnino achieves, in this scintillating tale about the complicated relationship between a trio of ultra-competitive tennis players whose feelings for each other rival their passion for the game itself.

Spanning the 13 years between 2006 and 2019, the story follows Art Donaldson (Mike Faist) and Patrick Zweig (Josh O'Connor), childhood friends who've known each other since the age of 12, but whose close friendship takes an unexpected turn when they meet Tashi Duncan (Zendaya) in 2006. An 18-year-old tennis prodigy who proves too mysterious and alluring for either of them to resist, Tashi upends the entire dynamic of Art and Patrick's relationship, causing them both to vie for her affections. However, when a freak on-court injury brutally sidelines Tashi from the sport permanently, it sets into motion a series of decisions that will forever change them all, as she takes her tennis experience and turns to coaching — a role change that will help make her and Art one of the most successful and influential power couples not just in the realm of tennis, but in all of sports.

Fast forward to 2019, and although Art and Patrick have grown apart, the pair find themselves having a long-overdue and surprising reunion, when Tashi signs Art up to play in the New Rochelle Challenger, not realizing that a down-on-his-luck Patrick has also entered the same tournament. It's a meetup that proves amusing to the more carefree Patrick; but for Art, who has spent the better part of the past decade building his name as an ambassador for the sport and building a family with Tashi, it only reopens old emotional wounds, and only helps him solidify his intent to make this his last year playing professionally. The question is, which of them will come out on top as Art and Patrick end up facing off against one another in the tournament's final? And will Tashi wind up coming between them again, just as she did when the three of them first set eyes on each other?

Written by Justin Kuritzkes, Challengers is an electrifying take on the genre that not only gives audiences one of the most mesmerizing on-screen love triangles in recent memory, but also redefines the way moviegoers regard the sport of tennis itself. Thanks to the inventive and dizzying camera work of cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom, Guadagnino is able to put viewers right in the thick of the racket-pounding action, delivering spectacular shots from the viewpoints of the players, as well as the tennis ball, as it zips back and forth from one end of the court to the other. And if that wasn't enough, the result is made even better by the electronic beats of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross' score, which itself makes for an instant classic.

It all adds up to a winning combination that will appeal to more than just avid tennis fans. Whether it's Zendaya, who follows up her role in Dune: Part Two with another career-high performance, or Guadagnino's ability to infuse the film with a seductive undertone, viewers won't be able to take their eyes off the screen. And much like a real-life tennis game, they'll find it even more challenging to predict the final outcome.

Challengers releases April 26th, 2024 from Warner Bros. Pictures. The film has an MPAA rating of R for language throughout, some sexual content and graphic nudity. Its runtime is 2 hrs. 11 min.

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