Home Entertainment Luca Guardagnino’s Challengers is Steamy, Sporty, and Sensational

Luca Guardagnino’s Challengers is Steamy, Sporty, and Sensational

by Danielle Vuono

You did it again, Luca, you did it again.

The man who gave us the Gen Z acclaimed clip of Timothée Chalamet on the dance floor, in ‘Call Me By Your Name’, fed us 10 fold in ‘Challengers’. Luca Guardagnino’s latest and greatest seductively depicts human desire and codependency. With a wickedly hot cast and copious amounts of sweat, Challengers is a metaphorical masterpiece that essentially makes tennis sexy.

Set in 2019, at Phil’s Tire Town Challenger in New Rochelle, a single tennis match sustains the duration of the film. The intense volley between Art Donaldson (Mike Faist) and Patrick Zweig (Josh O’Connor) is watched by a dissatisfied Tashi Donaldson (Zendaya). The pressure is on for Art, as his intense wife and coach, Tashi, has raised the stakes. Since an irreparable knee injury that ended her own tennis career, Tashi resorts to figuratively playing through her husband. Meanwhile, Patrick has less than a Benjamin to his name, so his objective is cashing in the seven grand prize. From the stands, Tashi arguably dictates the game like a puppet master, similar to what she has done with the players of the match… but we uncover this in time.

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Flashing back thirteen years earlier, it is revealed that the two men go way back. After winning the Junior US Open together, the boys are on a high when they approach 18-year-old tennis prodigy, Tashi Duncan. Both manifesting her cell phone number, the two are infatuated to say the least. Despite Tashi’s intention of not being a home-wrecker, she ironically does just that. For the next thirteen years she resembles that of a tennis ball, volleying back and forth between Art and Patrick. The entire timeline leads up to the Challenger in New Rochelle, unveiling the series of events prior.

Now this is genius. The extent of what we know only grows as the movie progresses. Context from the flashbacks are integral to knowing who the characters are in the present day. Their motives, grudges and secrets– you really cannot miss a minute of this film. And Guardagnino’s mode of storytelling by having the score of the Challenger mirror where the men place in Tashi’s game in real life is brilliant.

I love a movie that does not tell me how to feel about its characters. These people are messy. They are conniving, driven, narcissistic, loving– they emulate the complexities of humanity. You really can not hate any of them… but you probably will not love them either. All five times I watched this movie, I found new reasons to have compassion for their actions. This trios’ toxic behaviors are born out of an intense need. Whether it be the need for a person or a need for victory, that is up to us to decide.


Omitting the plot, the production quality of this film is out of this world. I mean, one sequence you are watching from the POV of a tennis ball, the next you get a slo-mo shot of Zendaya strutting down an alley, all accompanied by the sickest house music I have ever heard.

The cinematography is so diverse– the film is vibrant yet haunting. From intimate close ups of sweat beading off Mike Faist’s nose to still shots of Josh O’Connor’s charming gaze, the visuals are stunning. And the addition of hype techno music to enhance the inevitable element of anxiety is a clever touch. I just know the entire crew had a field day putting this together.

Now, I am a Z-Swagger (Zendaya’s fan base name) of 12 years, so I need to say a few words. I am so proud of Z. From The Greatest Showman to Euphoria, Zendaya has proven time and time again that she is a devoted, passionate and genuine performer.

I remember a commercial that aired on Disney Channel in 2015 where she shared her experience growing up in the theater. She gushes over the step by step production process and shares her obsession for the performing arts. She is so deserving of this career and this role in Guadagnino’s Challengers.

Since buying my ticket to Challengers, I have not been able to escape its grasp. A movie that fosters so much interpretation is bound to create a rift between its viewers. I have seen theories, edits, reenactments– this film really is the movie of the year. If you have not already gone, I highly encourage you to do so, but please do not judge the characters too hard.

If you need me this summer, I will be listening to the Challengers soundtrack in my tennis skirt… the way Tashi intended.

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