Challengers Review

Reviews Films


Tashi, an ambitious and former tennis prodigy is married to a champion (Art) on a losing streak. Her strategy for her husband’s redemption takes an unexpected turn when Mike faces off against former best friend Patrick, who is also Tashi’s former boyfriend.

Luca Guadagnino’s Challengers brings a ménage à trois to the tennis court, bouncing fast paced romantic drama and comedy across the highs and lows of thirteen years of professional tennis. Just not necessarily in order, more on that later.

Zaendaya (Spider Man Homecoming, Dune Part One) plays Tashi, an aggressive and talented savant player who knows her worth and is yet to find her equal. Unfortunately for Tashi, a major knee injury takes her out of the game just as she is getting started. Which does nothing to lessen her ambition. Josh O’Connor (God’s Own Country, Mothering Sunday) plays Patrick, a rebellious and preppy lad who overestimates his value, however manages to back up his ego with talent when it counts. Mike Faist (West Side Story, Panic) plays Art, a competent and more grounded lad who balances out this trio, all of them embroiled in a toxic relationship with each other.

Art and Patrick grew up together, roommates through their schooling. They still share everything as their professional tennis career (doubles) is breaking out. Not surprisingly when they meet Tashi, they both pursue her too (and she’s all for it). Patrick and Josh aren’t naïve, but they’ve met their match in Tashi’s ambition and sociopathic manipulations to be number one. Tashi can both have her cake and eat it, it’s what drives her.

At key intervals through this story Tashi’s plans for world domination are threatened. She’s continually forced to choose, putting Art and Patrick against each other. Swinging whichever way the fate of the moment decides. Again, Art and Patrick aren’t naïve and they know that with Tashi- they’re not considered peers. It’s this dynamic that works with Challengers, nobody is really a victim. If they are, it’s the fault of their own ego.

The direction and cinematography through Challengers is expertly paced, beautifully shot and manages to make the subdued and start/stop nature of tennis matches explosive and exciting. It’s the egos and relationship off court however that really brings the thunder. The performances from the lead players in this production are authentic and engaging.

One thing that lets Challengers down is the bombastic, electronic score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. It’s not to say that the music accompanying this film isn’t any good. Further from it, the music alone in a vacuum is quite good. The problems arise with the editing choices and pacing of the scenes. The pulse pounding and rhythmic electronic tunes overlaid on the drama and playing out on screen, becomes more than a little distracting and manages to get tiresome very quickly. At times the music also detracts from dialogue.

Another issue is the disjointed presentation of the narrative. The aforementioned face off between Art and Patrick bookends and middles various flashback segments, which interject when the relevant call backs are telegraphed throughout past and present events. It’s not hard to follow, but like the musical score, becomes tired and predictable.

That aside, Challengers is both fun and confronting with its handling of frictional personalities, sex, fame and power. It’s a cool 8/10 verbal abuse violations and is in cinemas now. Get on it!

Luke is writing short stories, screenplays and film reviews when he's not at the day job or looking after the needs of his family. So one Powerball...