‘Challengers’ movie review: Advantage Zendaya in this risqué romance 

The ‘Euphoria’ star rocks this tennis triangle with sterling support from Josh O’Connor and Mike Faist  

Updated - April 30, 2024 07:07 pm IST

Published - April 26, 2024 06:29 pm IST

A still from ‘Challengers’

A still from ‘Challengers’

The truly gladiatorial nature of tennis is laid bare in Luca Guadagnino’s Challengers. The grunts and sword-like thrusts of the racquets thrashing the ball and the passions that spill on and off court are all on view in this romantic drama about three very different tennis players. The background score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, who last blew our collective minds with The Killer, is the expected aural feast — alternating thumping techno beats with moody operatic crescendos.

Told over a somewhat bewildering number of timelines, Challengers follows three tennis prodigies — Tashi (Zendaya) and best friends Patrick (Josh O’Connor) and Art (Mike Faist) — from their teens to their thirties. In the present day, we see Art and Tashi as a power couple, managing an empire, living in five-star comfort as Art eases his way back into competitive tennis after an injury. 

If Art wins the US Open, he will have a grand slam, but is having problems with his confidence. Tashi, his coach, gets him a wild card entry into a Challenger event at New Rochelle, New York to build his confidence. While Tashi and Art are living it up in swish hotel rooms with their daughter Lily (AJ Lister) and Tashi’s mum (Nada Despotovich), Patrick is so down on his luck that he sleeps in his car playing in low-level tennis tournaments. 

Challengers (English)
Director: Luca Guadagnino 
Cast: Zendaya, Josh O’Connor, Mike Faist, AJ Lister, Nada Despotovich
Run-time: 131 minutes 
Storyline: Following the loves, rivalries, triumphs and tragedies between three tennis prodigies  

The movie goes back in time when the three were teenagers. Tashi is a high-performing tennis star on the rise, while Patrick and Art are best friends and doubles partners. They meet Tashi at a party and fall for her. Tashi sets the boys against each other, promising to give her number to whoever wins the match the next day. Even though Patrick promises to let Art win, the gloves are off when it comes to the Tashi challenge.  

Tashi and Art go on to Stanford to play college tennis since Tashi wants to have a back-up plan, while Patrick starts to play professional tennis. An injury forces Tashi to quit playing tennis, but she continues to be attached to the game in different capacities.  

One could look at tennis as a metaphor in Challengers. Would Tashi be any different if she were in some other profession, or would she be all-or-nothing irrespective of her career? Would she put the same level of ferocious tenacity into a career as an astronaut, a politician, a doctor, a musician or a teacher, all the while taking good care of her “little white boys”? Art is talented but just short of great, while Patrick has one great season left in him but needs Tashi to coax it out of him.  

Challengers sees these three good-looking, talented actors play off each other, burning up the screen with their crackling chemistry. That final match can be dinner table conversation till kingdom come. Zendaya looks lithe and lovely and aces her voracious vixen, Tashi, while O’Connor is a revelation as the easy-going Patrick who can give up everything for love.  

This tale of love, jealousy, male bonding and toxicity, set in the highly competitive world of tennis, is eye candy of the best kind. It is game, set and match for the gorgeous trio. 

Challengers is currently running in theatres 

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