Challengers movie poster

Challengers

In theaters April 26, 2024

Rated

, ,

131 minutes

Directed by:

Starring: , ,

Euphoria is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a feeling of well-being or elation,” but based on the hit HBO show of the same name, it could be defined as a series that introduced the world to two of the hottest actresses in Hollywood: Sydney Sweeney and Zendaya. Both beautiful, talented young actresses who have leveraged their success on the small screen into much bigger acting and even producing roles.

Having gotten her start on Disney’s Shake It Up, Zendaya had a small fanbase when she exited that role in 2013, but it was a succession of smart supporting roles in films like Spider-Man and The Greatest Showman that brought her to HBO’s attention. Zendaya, in turn, used that adult role to forever separate herself from her Disney days and branched off into supporting roles in Dune, one of 2021’s top-grossing films, and, Dune 2, at the time of this publication, the top grossing film of 2024. She also used her newfound success to headline her first film, the very sexy tennis drama, Challengers.

The ultra intense film finds former tennis phenom, Tashi (Zendaya), managing her tennis champion husband Art (Mike Faist), and seeking ways to get him back to the top after a major cold streak. Tashi relishes being in control, whether that be on the court, in her marriage, in any situation. Tennis is everything. It’s who she is. Because without it, who is she?

Just one championship shy of the Grand Slam, Tashi takes it upon herself to get her man back to the top – as she tells Art early in the film, “we need to go somewhere where no one can rattle you” and that somewhere is the Challenger circuit where he can play against weaker opponents and regain his confidence. That decision though also leads to a matchup between Art and his former doubles partner and best friend, Patrick (Josh O’Connor). Patrick also happens to be Tashi’s ex-boyfriend. Yup, a game that includes the score of love finds love wrapped up all throughout this sexy, messy, and wild threesome.

Art and Patrick became fast friends at 12 and turned their tennis devotion into the unstoppable duo of Fire & Ice on the court. A friendship so close that Patrick was willing to throw his singles match to Art. A friendship that seemed unbreakable – until it came crashing down because of a girl. At the same time of their rising success, they meet Tashi, the #1 singles junior player, at a tournament and one night of passion turns into a lifetime of questionable decisions by all of those involved. Entangled relationships follow. Tashi and Patrick. Tashi and Art. And underlying it all, equal parts love and hate between all three. Like many recent films, Challengers plays with time, alternating between present and past, and showing how the three characters are forever tied together.

Italian director Luca Guadagnino utilizes some bold camera techniques filming tennis matches at every angle possible – overhead, low angle, from the perspective of the player via GoPros, heck even from within the tennis ball. It’s the last that takes his camera work one step too far. Guadagnino succeeds where Clooney failed in December’s The Boys in the Boat. While Clooney attempted to turn rowing into an exciting sport, he largely failed. Guadagnino, meanwhile, packs every moment on the court with tension.

Guadagnino is certainly having his moment as a young actor whisperer having first casted Timothée Chalamet in the critically acclaimed films Call Me by Your Name and Bones and All and now following those films up with Chalamet’s Dune castmate in her first lead role. Like his previous films, he made the right decision as Zendaya crushes it as Tashi.

At just 27 years old, Zendaya continues to prove she is a force to be reckoned with. With over 200 millions social media followers, she portrays the former tennis prodigy with such vigor. Playing on and off the court with ice in her veins and with an intensity in her eyes reminiscent of Serena Williams, it’s difficult to discern whether Tashi is the protagonist or antagonist. This is Zendaya’s Wimbledon and 2024 is shaping up to be her year – leading Hollywood as a fashion icon and as an ‘It Girl’.

O’Connor shines playing a charming, talented, and all-around dick. Once a young stud, Patrick is now a down on his luck player left to trying to win small town tournaments so that he can avoid living out of his car. Best known for playing Charles, Prince of Wales, on The Crown, O’Connor plays both the aggressor and the victim equally well. Meanwhile Faist’s portrayal of Art will leave you rooting for and pitying the lap dog.

Just as powerful as the lead characters’ forehand in the film is the tremendous movie score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. Heightening the play on the court, the duo bring a welcome heavy techno vibe that Guadagnino sought to be “like a heartbeat that makes the movie fun.”

Challengers was recently described by Guadagnino as a “modern bold story of youthful energy, love, and power.” It’s that and so much more.

Challengers is streaming now on the following services:
Movie Reelist Contributor: Mark Eaton
Mark is an entertainment junkie, spending much of his leisure time watching movies, TV, or listening to any and all genres of music. Most evenings, after finishing a day of work and hanging with his wife and kids, Mark can be found in an eternal battle with his DVR, trying to clear it before another 5-6 hours of shows are recorded the next day. Still reeling from his unpaid gig for the Detroit News where he was fired for being too cruel with his American Idol recaps, Mark is thrilled to be sharing his wicked sense of humor with Movie Reelists.

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