Arts, Movies, Review

‘Challengers’ is a Beautiful Look at Love and Competition


Italian director Luca Guadagnino delivered an artful masterpiece about athletic and romantic entanglements with Challengers, released on April 26. Known for Call Me by Your Name (2017), Suspiria (2018), and Bones and All (2022), Guadagnino delivers no less complex emotions and sumptuous visuals in his latest work.

Challengers is about a love triangle between two love-struck men and an enigmatic and confident woman. Zendaya plays Tashi Duncan, the woman who steals the hearts of Art Donaldson (Mike Faist) and Patrick Zweig (Josh O’Connor). The movie follows the trio through various time periods in their lives detailing some tennis but mostly the eternally tumultuous relationships between the three of them. 

The movie opens in 2019 when Tashi, once the brightest star out of the three luminaries and now retired, is coaching her husband Art, a pro Grand Slam champ who is on a slow-burning decline. Tashi pushes Art to enter a challenger tournament, a second-tier tennis competition intended for lower-ranking professionals and higher-ranking professionals recovering from injuries. Much to their surprise, an old lover, friend, and foe, Patrick Zweig, is also competing in this match which takes place in New Rochelle, N.Y.

The skillful camera work makes the film a vivid window into the minds of the primary three characters. Distress, lust, disappointment, and passion jump out of the screen as the film features many frontal close-ups. As droplets of sweat drip off muscular bodies and slow motion captures the player’s movements on and off of the court, Guadagnino creates an exciting and erotic tension on screen in this ménage à trois. 

Camera work further translates the tension in personal relationships that manifests many times on the court. The captivating back and forth of the ball over the net is all the more chaotic when the camera is actually attached to the ball. One scene features a glass court in which viewers get an angle of the players from below as they fight physically and emotionally to win. 

Music plays a great role in this film. A number of techno-inspired electronic compositions written by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross give the movie a heartbeat and excitement that make it impossible to look away. Amid the thrilling drama brought by the music, there is a concerted order and composition that resembles the concentration of the talented players themselves. 

When the triad first meets at the beginning of the film, Tashi compares the game of tennis to a relationship. But as the movie develops, her motives become hard to place. 

What is clear is that she is caught in between two men. Her husband Art plays the golden retriever boyfriend well. It’s easy to feel sorry for Art at times when Tashi and Patrick exclude him and talk about him in a patronizing way.

Fire and chaos is brought by Patrick, a character who never seems to be without a devilish and flirty smile that brings the drama to the film. He is a rich boy who is cosplaying a starving athlete by living out of his car with frequent card declines. His swagger or cockiness can be off-putting but it is what makes the trio go-round. Whether he’s dropping his towel in the sauna to a man or handing out his number to a married woman, it is impossible to figure out who his next flirting partner is.

The film does not address any deeper questions and is not here to make any social commentary. It perfectly plays its role as an enticing window into beautiful peoples’ lives. Injuries, rejection, joy, and dance play on the screen and viewers are left with the question of what it means to win in sport and love. 

April 28, 2024