‘Challengers’ Is an Enthralling Tennis Match You Don’t Want To Miss

It’s not easy to make a movie feel as tense as an actual tennis match, yet Luca Guadagnino brings Justin Kuritzkes’ screenplay to life in a stunning back-and-forth across the court. By the time the credits roll, Challengers will leave you on edge and in need of a shower.

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The film centers on former tennis star Tashi Duncan (Zendaya), the wife and coach of Art Donaldson (West Side Story‘s Mike Faist) who is playing a match against his former best friend, Patrick Zweig (The Crown‘s Josh O’Connor). As the two men duke it out on court, we watch flashbacks of what their lives used to be like.

The trailers for Challengers left us wondering how much of this movie would be sex scenes between Faist, Zendaya, and O’Connor. While the film doesn’t have nearly as many as you’d think, it is still a tense back-and-forth that leaves you clutching your pearls by the end. Somehow, the lack of actual sex scenes is even sexier than you could imagine. What makes Challengers so captivating to watch is Tashi’s power over Art and Patrick.

From the moment they see her as young tennis hopefuls competing at the U.S. Opens, the two are smitten and begin vying for her attention. Whether it is their lack of understanding of their homoerotic feelings for each other or their inability to fully pursue a throuple relationship, there is this constant volley between the three of them that leaves you with whiplash in the best of ways.

We will all be vying for Zendaya’s attention

Zendaya in the wind in red light
(Niko Tavernise / Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures)

This movie would not work without Zendaya’s talent and star power, which lures both men into her orbit. You understand her appeal and how both Art and Patrick would become obsessed with her. It’s a career-best performance from the Euphoria star who oozes magnetism in the role.

Tashi begins her career as a talented, hopeful competitor, a winner, whose career is cut short by a devastating injury. This leaves her behind the scenes, where she coaches her husband to the kind of career success she should have had. You can feel Tashi’s anger and resentment in every scene in the modern half of the film, a marked difference from her character’s youth. The film is a phenomenal showcase of Zendaya’s talents and Guadagnino uses her power to the film’s advantage.

A score that you can’t get out of your head while shot with the female gaze in mind

Josh O'Connor talking and Mike Faist listening in Challengers
(Niko Tavernise/Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures)

I have rarely felt so moved by the score of a movie that I needed to listen to it on repeat. The score, by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, fits perfectly with the tense match that the film mirrors on and off the court.

While the movie itself is not intentionally filmed with the female gaze, it did feel like a movie catered to the female audience. Or an audience that is attracted to men, to be clear. The film focuses on Faist and O’Connor’s bodies in a way usually reserved for women onscreen. Yes, Zendaya’s Tashi has her moments, but it is not Guadagnino’s focus. The director finds the inherent sensuality in the male actors, much like he did in his excellent Call Me by Your Name. This film feels like the polar opposite of the male gaze we are so used to seeing in cinema.

Yet again, Guadagnino strikes gold

Zendaya and Mike Faist sitting at a table eating in Challengers
(Niko Tavernise / Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures)

I love Luca Guadagnino’s films. Call Me By Your Name was a dazzling, moving story of first love, Bones and All curdled my blood and broke my heart, and now with Challengers, he infuses the film with the tension of a tennis match.

The film keeps you on the edge until the ending’s well-earned emotional release. A frontrunner for one of 2024’s best films, Challengers is captivating, beautiful, and your next obsession.

Challengers premieres in theaters on April 26, 2024.

(featured image: Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures)


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Rachel Leishman
Rachel Leishman (She/Her) is an Assistant Editor at the Mary Sue. She's been a writer professionally since 2016 but was always obsessed with movies and television and writing about them growing up. A lover of Spider-Man and Wanda Maximoff's biggest defender, she has interests in all things nerdy and a cat named Benjamin Wyatt the cat. If you want to talk classic rock music or all things Harrison Ford, she's your girl but her interests span far and wide. Yes, she knows she looks like Florence Pugh. She has multiple podcasts, normally has opinions on any bit of pop culture, and can tell you can actors entire filmography off the top of her head. Her work at the Mary Sue often includes Star Wars, Marvel, DC, movie reviews, and interviews.