Italian filmmaker Luca Guadagnino burst onto the scene in 2017 with his controversial, yet transcendent tale of first love, Call Me By Your Name, before following it up with his audacious remake of Dario Argento’s Suspiria and another story of forbidden love, Bones and All. Love them or loathe them, with those films, he laid bare his admiration of the weird and the wonderful. Well, he’s back and he’s attempting to crack the code of complicated relationships once again with his latest film Challengers.

"sometimes struggles to maintain its thematic serve"

Challengers stars the incredibly versatile Zendaya alongside Mike Faist and Josh O'Connor, and serves as a compelling cinematic conundrum that employs tennis as a metaphor to explore complex relationship dynamics. Under the experienced direction of Guadagnino, the film attempts to dissect the intense power plays and dependencies within personal relationships, likening them to a tense, ongoing tennis match where love and rivalry coexist in a precarious balance.

Zendaya, following her remarkable performances in Dune 1 & 2, shines brightly as the beguiling Tashi Donaldson, a young tennis phenom caught in a precarious love triangle which forms the crux of the story. Her portrayal is bold and nuanced, bringing depth to a scenario that might have otherwise felt a bit threadbare. Opposite her Tashi is Faust’s Art and O’Connor’s Patrick, a couple of childhood bros and fellow tennis players – though neither is quite on her level… in more ways than one.

Their story is told via a fractured timeline which annoyingly flops back and forth from when they were 18-year-old tennis nerds to their match at the 2007 U.S. Tennis Open, where Patrick and Art are contending for the amateur Men’s Singles title. With Tashi long since having blown out her knee, she is now Art’s tennis coach and occasional bed partner of both. Yes, it’s as complicated and messy as it sounds, but the chemistry between the trio keeps us engaged while underpinning the narrative with a sense of urgency and authenticity.

While screenwriter Justin Kuritzkes’ sports metaphor aims high, intending to serve a dual narrative of competition and companionship, it's the human element of the story that truly resonates. Scenes focusing on the personal challenges and emotional turmoil of the trio of characters, magnified through the lens of a competitive sport, make for most of the compelling viewing. Here, the emotional weight of the movie finds its footing, supported by a cast fully committed to their roles.Challengers

However, the film is not without its faults. There are plenty. Primarily that the integration of tennis as both a literal and metaphorical element often wavers, occasionally feeling more like a distraction than a deepened layer of narrative complexity. Compounded by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’s techno beat score that comes at some of the oddest of moments, and even drowns out the dialogue at times, Challengers sometimes struggles to maintain its thematic serve.

Despite these hitches, the film's emotional arcs—especially as depicted in the climactic sports action and tender moments of love and vulnerability—strike a chord. These scenes, bolstered by Zendaya's standout performance and Guadagnino's direction, ensure that the love triangle at the film's center remains believable and engaging.

For fans of Zendaya and those drawn to love stories woven with grand thematic ambitions, Challengers presents a slightly flawed yet ultimately affecting portrayal of how personal relationships can oscillate between symbiosis and competition. While not every serve lands in bounds, the game it plays with the heart proves worth the watch.

3/5 stars

Film Details


MPAA Rating: R.
131 mins
: Luca Guadadgnino
Justin Kuritzkes
Zendaya; Mike Faist; Josh O'Connor
: Romance | Sport

Memorable Movie Quote: "I'm taking such good care of my little white boys."
Theatrical Distributor:
Official Site:
Release Date:
April 26, 2024
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:

Synopsis: Tashi, a former tennis prodigy turned coach, turned her husband into a champion. But to overcome a losing streak, he needs to face his ex-best friend and Tashi's ex-boyfriend.