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Review: Challengers (2024)

Challengers (2024)

Directed by: Luca Guadagnino

Premise: Set over several years, a romantic triangle develops between a tennis prodigy (Zendaya), her husband (Mike Faist), and his former best friend (Josh O’Connor).

What Works: Challengers merges a love triangle with a sports story and those two narratives complement one another. Both elements emphasize competition and allow the characters to reveal who they are through their actions. The story centers upon Art and Patrick, longtime best friends and professional tennis players who have fallen out over their mutual affection for Tashi, a tennis prodigy who suffered a career ending injury. The filmmakers do an excellent job intertwining athletic competition with human relationships. The pressure to win shapes every aspect of these people’s lives and the way they relate to one another. That’s especially evident between Art and Tashi and the way Art’s stalling career derails their marriage. The characterization of Patrick, played by Josh O’Connor, is especially interesting. At times he’s quite sleezy but the film also gives Patrick moments of vulnerability that make him empathetic. All three leads are presented with great complexity which makes for an engrossing character study. Challengers is also extremely well made. The cinematography by Sayombhu Mukdeeprom has some wild images that manage to make tennis visually interesting. The picture also possesses a tactile visual texture that supports the athleticism and eroticism of the story. The music by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross is at times surging and aggressive but at other points delicate, underscoring the drama and assisting the forward momentum of the story.

What Doesn’t: The narrative of Challengers is aggressively nonlinear. The film jumps backward and forward on the timeline. While it is generally clear where events occur in relationship to one another, the scene order is sometimes unnecessarily zigzagged. There isn’t a reason to show some of these events out of order. The film is very fast paced, partly owing to that nonlinear structure, but a more linear organization might have given the characters and the plot room to breathe. The weakest element of the love triangle is Tashi. In a love triangle story, the woman is both a character and a MacGuffin. That means she has to be so desirable that men would compete over her. Tashi is harsh and at times she is unpleasant to be around. There isn’t enough push and pull between desirability and harshness and aside from her money and looks it’s difficult to see why these men desire her to this degree. That undermines the stakes of the climactic match.

Bottom Line: Challengers is an engaging character study. It digs deeper into its characters than the average love triangle plot and the movie is made with a physical style that has visceral impact.

Episode: #995 (May 5, 2024)