Challengers | Review by: Amanda Guarragi


Challengers work beautifully as a dance between three characters: Tashi Duncan (Zendaya), Art Donaldson (Mike Faist) and Patrick Zweig (Josh O’Connor). The non-linear storytelling impacts the relationship between Patrick, Art and Tashi throughout the film. Writer Justin Kuritzkes uses the fast pace of a tennis match while retelling the history between the three of them. The audience gets to know them on and off the court while building their relationship. Art and Patrick had known each other from childhood because they went to boarding school and experienced puberty together. Guadagnino left their sexuality ambiguous because their relationship was close and intimate. O’Connor and Faist had electric chemistry between them. Guadagnino purposefully made them so in sync that they felt like one entity. Their synchronicity became stronger once Tashi Duncan was introduced to both of them. Zendaya’s star power makes Tashi’s character as a young tennis star so believable. She commanded every single scene she was in. Art and Patrick were not only affected by Tashi’s passion for the game but, of course, her beauty. She not only commanded the court, but she also manipulated the two of them. 

The relationship with Art, Patrick and Tashi is intriguing because of how they became linked to each other. After one night in a hotel room during their first meeting, the audience understands how Tashi’s mind works as an opportunist. She has two men fawning over her, but she is still tactful in her fun. All three of them are manipulative in their way, which causes tension for the trio. Art and Patrick only function if Tashi gives them the attention they crave from her, whether with tennis or sexually. After one incident, Tashi’s life was never the same and her passion for the game pivoted towards Art and his ability to be a great pro player. Tashi’s craving for the game was projected through Art and Patrick. Neither character works without the other, and they are all in service to one another. The characters may seem two-dimensional, especially Tashi, who feels underwritten based on her motivations and the immense loss she feels. However, her anger over her situation comes out in different forms, making her a fearless character in this film. The tension between the three of them was palpable. They also had secrets from one another that amplified the final game between Patrick and Art. Again, the non-linear storyline is executed perfectly as it builds that final match into a crescendo of passion for each character. 

The cinematography by Sayombhu Mukdeeprom had symmetry in every scene between the three characters. From the perspective changing, on the court from one player to the next, to even being placed with the ball, was incredible. Mukdeeprom captured each character within the frame to heighten their emotions. Combined with the electrifying score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, the film’s sensuality stems from one scene between Patrick, Tashi and Art in the beginning, which was carried in each scene. The rhythm of the electronic dance beat expresses the elevation of a steady heartbeat and can instantly make anyone go into a frenzy or hyper-focus on a singular subject. With the non-linear editing by Marco Costa, the constant reveals of their relationship and life-changing moments for the characters were incredibly effective. The fast cuts and change in perspective felt like the viewer was watching a tennis match between the dialogue with these characters. That’s why it felt like such richness for the senses because all of this, combined with Guadagnino’s direction, made for a perfect sports drama that, in the end, fused the relationship the characters had with tennis and each other. 

Challengers is a passionate sports drama with three incredible performances. Zendaya’s a movie star through and through. She has powerful chemistry with O’Connor and Faist. Although Tashi’s relationship with Art holds more vulnerability and tenderness, it’s still the best relationship of the two. However, Tashi’s relationship with Patrick is more raw, dangerous and animalistic because they reflect each other. Art grounds Tashi and Patrick, and that’s why the final scene of the film leaves everyone on a high. After sitting with these characters and their intimate relationship for two hours, they begin to blend into this one toxic trio that the audience understands. These characters are who they are because they love the sport and how it makes each of them feel. Guadagnino makes the audience feel the physical nature of the sport and the emotions it evokes through sound design and visual storytelling. Every breath, every ounce of sweat, every grunt is expressive and draws you into the relationship you’re part of with Art, Tashi and Patrick. 


Review by: Amanda Guarragi

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