Challengers Review

Luca Guadagnino’s latest is a tense look at a love triangle and its affect on the participants over a decade and a half.

Challengers review

PLOT: Tashi, a former tennis prodigy turned coach is married to a champion on a losing streak. Her strategy for her husband’s redemption takes a surprising turn when he must face off against his former best friend and Tashi’s former boyfriend.

REVIEW: There are few films that affected me as much as 2022’s Bones and All. From the moment those credits rolled, I decided I would make an effort to see every Luca Guadagnino movie in theaters. The director is able to capture life through the lens in such a way that draws out intense emotions, regardless of subject. So add the talent of someone like Zendaya and it feels like the film is already starting out on third base. As much as Challengers is about tennis, it’s mostly using that as a framing device for its true subject matter: the love triangle between Tashi, Art, and Patrick.

Challengers follows an ever-shifting narrative as it follows the lives of three pro tennis hopefuls. Zendaya is absolutely phenomenal as Tashi and manages to carry over her natural charisma. I hate when films are constantly telling versus showing and they do a great job of simply showing Tashi’s pull. It continues a trend of her taking on vastly different characters, with a fearlessness that few possess. She has surprisingly spare dialogue compared to her screen time, but she says so much with even a look.

Mike Faist, Zendaya, and Josh O'Connor in Challengers (2024).

Art Donaldson is the less showy role, but Mike Faist is great as the struggling tennis player. His dynamic with Zendaya has so much to it that each of their interactions could be studied for clues. Josh O’Connor seems to impress in everything he does and here is no different. Patrick is the kind of pompous douche that I tend to hate but it works for what they’re going for. Each personality trait is essentially given so as to see how it will play off the two others. Because the film makes it clear early that there’s no one that really matters to the narrative outside of these three. I struggle to even think of anyone’s name outside of the daughter Lilly, and even her they make sure to keep on the outer rim of the story.

As much as I loved the performances, there were some other elements that felt questionable. I found myself getting very frustrated at the film’s pacing, as it creeps into a tad pretentious at times. The final thirty minutes features so much slow motion that it made my head spin. And it feels like by the time the full picture starts coming into view, there’s still twenty minutes of slow-motion tennis and reactions to sit through. I found myself very antsy as I wanted to get away from these awful people.

Josh O'Connor and Zendaya in Challengers (2024).

Where the film impresses the most is in its small moments between the characters. Information is relayed in such a believable way that every emotion hits hard. Whether it’s a simple glance or lack thereof, so much is said without words. Then the narrative, being bandied about like a jigsaw puzzle, comes together in a satisfying way. There’s a lot to break down and infer and each new scene changes the texture of those that came before it.

Challengers was no doubt a great film but it’s not one I’d want to revisit anytime soon. The tennis can be a bit much by the end as Luca really likes to do the exact same music cue to signal a moment. And there does seem to be an over-reliance on slow motion that can be obnoxious. There were times when I was just begging for the film to simply play out at normal speed. It’s overindulgent and a tad frustrating, but it manages to bring about feelings that only the most talented of filmmakers can muster. And I’ll take that over something soulless.

CHALLENGERS IS PLAYING IN THEATERS ON APRIL 22ND, 2024.

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Tyler Nichols is a horror fanatic who resides in Michigan and is always on the hunt for the next great film. When not scouring the internet for movie news, he is usually off watching something dark, writing nonsensical musings, or playing in some fantastical video game world. While horror takes up most of his time, he still makes time for films of all types, with a certain affinity for the strange and unusual. He’s also an expert on all things Comic Book Cinema. In addition to reviews and interviews here on JoBlo.com, Tyler also helps with JoBlo Horror Originals where he’s constantly trying to convince viewers to give lesser-known horror films a chance.