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  • Erica Patton

“Come On!”: “Challengers” Movie Review

By: Erica Patton

The film ‘Challengers’ takes its audience through a visual time machine of the history of Tashi (Zendaya), Art (Mike Faist) and Patrick (Josh O’Connor) who all have a love for tennis, the need for redemption and lots of sexual tension. While “Challengers” has received generous amounts of traction from social media and Zendaya stans, it finally served in theaters on April 26th. Directed by Italian Film Director Luca Guadagnino, “Challengers” matches his salacious and visually striking taste as seen in his other films like “Call Me By Your Name” and “Bones and All.” However, this time, Guadagnino brings his style to the court with a suspenseful plot and an amazing upbeat soundtrack. 

"Challengers" Movie Poster, Photo by Juksun

The film takes place in New Rochelle, New York, where Tashi, a former tennis prodigy turned coach (due to a knee injury), finds herself frustrated in keeping her struggling husband Art and his pro tennis career afloat. With Tashi’s extensive background in tennis, great technique and determination, she trains Art to be the notable athlete she was never able to become. But when Art finds himself burnt out and flying under the pro tennis radar, Tashi enters Art into a second-tier match, (also known as a challenger match), meant to be practice for Art. However, practice quickly turns into a vying war to win as we learn that Art’s competitor is none other than his ex-best friend, and Tashi’s ex-boyfriend, Patrick. 

As we rewind to their late teens, we learn that Art and Patrick had more in common than just their love for tennis. During their adolescence, both Art and Patrick, along with many other fans, idolized Tashi’s incredible athletic abilities and success in women’s tennis. Along with tennis, they also found Tashi to be extremely attractive, which led to an awkward threesome (yes, that scene we’ve all seen by now). 

Scene from "Challengers" by Harper’s Baazar

Continuing with the flashback, Tashi remarks that she’s not a homewrecker and can only date one of the guys. She puts the two head-to-head competing for a chance to date her before she heads off to college. When Tashi accepts a full-ride tennis scholarship to Stanford University, Art follows suit to pursue tennis, while Patrick has a not-so-illustrious tennis career back at home. 

Fasting forward and rewinding from the past and the present, the film flies to and from different points of the characters’ lives like a tennis ball on the court. The tension from years past and resentment held toward one another is echoed throughout the theater as the film pans in on a POV of the tennis ball being violently swung back and forth, creating a nauseating, but compelling visual. 

Though the film disorients you with loud techno music and timeline jumps, the determination and competitiveness from this film leave the audience inspired and invested in what’s to come. With very little knowledge of the sport, the intense nature of the film and aesthetic visuals somehow converted me into a tennis fanatic. 

What made the film the most interesting among other things, was its ability to capture a dynamic yet complex female character. While Zendaya has captured the essence of this type of character in works like her drug-addict character in “Euphoria” and argumentative lover in “Malcolm & Marie,” this was the first time in a long time I have seen a powerful, leading female character play a toxic, yet intoxicating role in film. 

Tashi’s slyness is shown as she manipulates the two friends in several scenes, including a scene where a three-way kiss turns into a much-needed, bro-makeout session with Art and Patrick, and her need to dictate Art’s career choices. The hints at issues among masculine competitiveness and sexuality also play a crucial role in the dynamic of “Challengers,” adding to its complexity. While the common theme of the male competitive nature plays out in the film, it is balanced with Tashi’s controlling, authoritative and driven female character. It takes the term “girl power” to an entirely different playing field. 

Art and Tashi eating at the Stanford dining hall by Filmaffinity

Even though there are far fewer sex scenes than expected, the sexual tension between the characters can be cut with a butter knife. This is no surprise considering that Gaudagnino has mastered the art of eroticism in his other films. “Challengers” is no exception, as it creates the perfect sexual-to-sport ratio by not being too raunchy while focusing on its complex plot.

Guadagnino’s “Challengers” is entertaining, steamy and full of tennis terminology. This film fulfills its duty by serving pure fun and suspense to its audience like a tennis ball going 100 mph. While the repetitive plot jumps may be a problem for people who have trouble keeping up, the end of this movie will have you getting out of your seat with Zendaya screaming “Come on!”  in a sports-like fashion. 

Make sure to check out "Challengers" in theaters near you. 


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