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‘Challengers’ Film Review: An Electrifying & Steamy Love Triangle

Updated: Apr 24

As Dune: Part Two continues to screen in cinemas worldwide, Zendaya further solidifies her ascent within the new wave of Hollywood actors in Luca Guadagnino's latest feature film, Challengers.

Two budding tennis players, Patrick Zweig (Josh O'Connor) and Art Donaldson (Mike Faist) fall in love with the talented Tashi Duncan, played by Zendaya, who also has all it takes to succeed and become one of the leading figures in women's tennis. However, an injury is set to disrupt her future and, more importantly, mark a turning point in this love triangle.

In Challengers, Luca Guadagnino isn't interested in tennis as a sport but rather in the complexity of human relationships and sexuality. We get to discover the duo 'Fire & Ice' composed of Patrick and Art, the two best friends in the world. They are so close that their relationship almost resembles a brotherhood. Nevertheless, their relationship appears ambiguous with homoerotic hints casting doubt on the nature of their friendship. In a humorously depicted story, we learn that Patrick taught Art how to masturbate for the first time. A detail reinforcing this idea is when the two friends eat phallic-shaped food: bananas, hot dogs, and churros... Furthermore, when they eat churros, Patrick & Art fiercely and almost sensually take a bite from each other's food.

Mike Faist (Art) and Josh O’Connor (Patrick) in ‘Challengers’ © 2024 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Their friendship is so strong that when they both fall in love with Tashi and try to win her over, it happens in a healthy and joyful competition that doesn't undermine their relationship. But, as the young players become professionals and adults, the rematch takes place under different circumstances. The entire strength of the film lies in tennis, a very intense sport where competition is extreme, used as a means to convey the competition between the two brothers to win over the charming Tashi. She declares that tennis is a "relationship" and that "for a moment, I am in love with my opponent." All of this echoes the bromance shared by the two brothers. Despite the playful tone, there is a strong undertone during the entirety of the film and they almost seem to hate each other. The tension is electric from start to finish.

For a very first screenplay, Justin Kuritzkes excels. The dialogues in the film are crafted with precision. Despite being sexy and hot, this love triangle allows for the exploration of each character's motivations and flaws. Tashi, forced to give up her athletic career due to injury, lives vicariously through her husband Art while he, lacking in self-assurance and confidence, constantly seeks his wife's approval. Patrick, on the other hand, is an immature and presumptuous bad boy who seems to be stuck in his adolescence. In such a toxic relationship, the film doesn't aim to point fingers at anyone but rather to highlight the complexity of human relationships.

Zendaya (Tashi) and Josh O’Connor (Patrick) in ‘Challengers’ © 2024 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Filled with flashbacks, the film is almost edited like a tennis match with back-and-forth movements between the past and the present. The ball exchanges are filmed from various angles: wide shots, slow-motion, close-ups, players' point of view, or even the ball's point of view... Thanks to this immersion, the match doesn't seem repetitive or boring, quite the opposite. The eye contact and smiles almost seem sensual, but the breakdowns and frustrations serve as reminders of the competitive spirit of this match and the ambiguous relationship maintained by Patrick and Art.

The film wouldn't be what it is without the explosive and insane chemistry of the cast. Zendaya is fascinating and captivating. She plays with mischief a woman who is desired and who alone manages to define the atmosphere of an entire scene. Josh O'Connor exudes stunning self-confidence, and the actor steals the show. Mike Faist, by the nature of his character, delivers a sober performance but is equally convincing as his counterparts.

Music plays a very essential role in this film. Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross produced an EDM-oriented soundtrack, with house music alternating between disco and techno. The high-tempo electro soundtrack underscores the dynamic rhythm of the film and its tennis matches. The director asked the artists to compose music as if it was a rave party to give it energy and make people dance.

Luca Guadagnino delivers something very bold with Challengers. This erotically charged film with a frenetic pace and electric atmosphere is coming out this Friday, April 26th, in theaters.

Rating: 4/5


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