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Monday, June 10, 2024

Review: ‘Challengers’ is just as action-packed as an actual tennis match

The film, starring Zendaya, Josh O’Connor and Mike Faist, offers a refreshingly intense movie about a love triangle happening on and off the tennis court


By ELIZABETH WOODHALL — arts@theaggie.org


“Challengers,” directed by Luca Guadagnino, was released in March 2024 and has a stellar cast led by Zendaya, Josh O’Connor and Mike Faist. The film scored an 89% on Rotten Tomatoes’ Tomatometer. The cinematography caters to the audience, making them feel like they are a part of the competition. It captures the movement between three different years, spanning from 2006 to 2019, and shows an intimate space between the emotional tension and passion-fueled action. 

Best friends Patrick Zweig and Art Donaldson have just won the boys’ junior doubles at the U.S. Open. Their intimate bond — emotional and sexual — exists on and off the tennis court as they were childhood best friends turned into tennis partners. Tashi Duncan soon joins the court; she is a young tennis player who has already signed brand deals with popular sports brands, capturing the eyes of anyone who likes a good game. Both boys are captivated by her and finally decide to make their move. With a love triangle spanning over 20 years, tennis has never felt so captivating. 

Patrick is infatuated with her image and who she could be: the best tennis player in the world, and his girlfriend. In contrast, Art views her for who she is: someone who knows how to play the right game in tennis. Art and Tashi are going to Stanford University, so their objectives are closely aligned. After briefly speaking to Tashi during an afterparty, Patrick and Art wait for Tashi to knock on their shabby hotel room door. When she finally arrives, she is interrogated by the boys, and their attempt to seduce her only proves who is in charge. Tashi leads them to the bed, kissing both simultaneously and then leading them to kiss each other. She’s aware of this connection between the boys, going as far as to say that she doesn’t want to be a “homewrecker.” While both boys have made a good impression on her, she promises to give her phone number to whoever wins the junior singles. 

Patrick wins the match, granting him the phone number of Tashi, but after she suffers a career-ending injury, we move forward in time to see that she is no longer with him. She is no longer a tennis player, but Art’s coach — and her greatest aspiration is for Art to win a Grand Slam title.

 To regain confidence on the court, Art is enlisted by Tashi in a lower-stakes Challengers tournament, but little do they know that Patrick, now a lesser-known tennis player who has blown through his money, will be playing against him. Patrick has never lost to Art, and so the tension grows as they both have to come to terms with this back-and-forth competition of who is deserving of Tashi’s affection as well as the better tennis player. However, this build-up isn’t out of nowhere. A flashback reveals that Tashi had affairs with Patrick while engaged and married to Art — making this rematch personal.

This movie is not just about tennis. Zendaya’s character offers an eventful performance of power and frustration from having to manage Patrick and Art away from making life-altering decisions on a whim. It’s about the remarkable passion for playing tennis and the lengths someone like Tashi will go to to experience some good tennis. Not only does she make Art one of the greatest tennis players, but she also has a consistent presence in the matches. She is willing to do anything to make sure she is in control of her future, including messing with Art and Patrick. Even though she is no longer on the tennis court, she is still making the winning move as she remains admired by everyone — her fans and her love interests. 


Written by: Elizabeth Woodhall — arts@theaggie.org 


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