Challengers review | Zendaya dominates the screen in Luca Guadagnino’s sultry tennis drama

challengers review
Share this Article:

Zendaya, Josh O’Connor and Mike Faist headline Luca Guadagnino’s sexiest film yet. Here’s our Challengers review. 

After watching Challengers, Luca Guadagnino’s new tennis drama, one thing is clear: the filmmaker could make the weekly grocery shop at Tesco sexy. 

As he’s proven time and time again with films like Call Me By Your Name, I Am Love and even Bones And All, with its cannibalistic tendencies, Guadagnino is the master of sensuality – but Challengers is by far his sexiest film. That’s saying something with a filmography like his. 

The film unfolds in a series of chaotic flashbacks, but we’ll do our best to give you a vague idea of what the premise is. The film revolves around the love triangle between Art (Mike Faist), Patrick (Josh O’Connor) and Tashi (Zendaya). The framing device here is a low-level tournament and specifically the final match which brings Art and Patrick, former best friends, together again, this time on the opposite sides of the net as Tashi watches the match. 

challengers josh o'connor
Credit: Warner Bros.

The flashbacks reveal the trio’s complex history which make the final match about a lot more than just tennis. Challengers is admittedly a film that is difficult to describe. Trying to explain it is ruining most of the fun and I’m not sure there’s even a way to make this fascinating puzzle of a movie any justice with just words. Guadagnino carefully, skilfully builds a web of intricate relationships, power dynamics and sexual politics that elevates Challengers from a mere sports drama to a captivating character study. 

It’s a blessing that there are no weak links in the cast. I doubt Challengers would work with a less committed, less adventurous trio of actors. As Tashi does on the tennis court, Zendaya completely dominates the screen. She, O’Connor and Faist have sizzling, sexy chemistry that always feels believable. 

For Zendaya, Challengers is also a much more mature role than we’ve seen from her in before. This is arguably her shining moment and Challengers is her film, but here’s the thing: Tashi is deeply unlikeable, cold and refuses to let go of old grudges. Similarly, Art is frustratingly weak and agreeable, while Patrick is infuriating in his pointless cockiness. 

The fact that Guadagnino is able to keep us invested in these characters is outright masterful. He directs Challengers with a bold, almost forceful hand; the pounding score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross is often invading, drowning out the smaller nuances of a scene or line delivery, but it’s the kind of score you feel in your bones. Challengers will occupy your body as much as it will your mind.

Trailers for the film have also implied that Challengers is a rather saucy affair. Well, aside from some brief nudity, Challengers is surprisingly tame with its sex scenes. Without spoiling anything, the withholding of graphic sex scenes happens for good, narratively-driven reasons. Every scene and every decision by Guadagnino in Challengers works to make the final moments of the film utterly rewarding.

Take the heavily marketed scene that implies a threesome between our trio of tennis players. The way the scene unfolds will be surprising for many, but make no mistake, it’s one of the most exciting, sexy scenes in the film, even if we’re not privy to as much as many would prefer to be. Guadagnino is nothing if not a meticulous filmmaker, and Challengers might be his most controlled, delectable film yet. 

Challengers is a little on the long side with a runtime that stretches just over two hours. It’s not so much that there’s any unnecessary scenes in Challengers, it’s just that some of it could have been condensed a little. Guadagnino has always been an indulgent filmmaker and while such an approach works miracles in the lush Italian setting of Call Me By Your Name, the endless tennis courts and cold hotel and locker rooms feel a little distancing in comparison. 

Challengers is firmly in competition for the most entertaining film of 2024. It’s sexy, luscious and perhaps the most accessible of Guadagnino’s films. There are no exploding heads à la Suspiria here, but Challengers is the most fun you can have at the cinema with your clothes on. 

Challengers is in UK cinemas 26th April.

Share this Article:

Related Stories

More like this