‘Challengers’ Review: Sexy, Sweaty And Smart

‘Challengers’ Review: Sexy, Sweaty And Smart
Image: Source: Warner Brothers

The highly anticipated Challengers is here, and I’m elated to say that Luca Guadagnino’s latest is a delightfully arousing sports-romance film that’s worth seeing. 

Zendaya is Tashi, a former tennis star turned-coach and manager of her husband and fellow player Art (Mike Faist). Tashi enters Art into a low-level competition to rebuild his confidence, without knowing that his former childhood friend and her ex-boyfriend Patrick (Josh O’Connor) is competing, culminating in a dramatic final with much more at stake than money. 

Challengers smartly employs flashbacks to tell the majority of its story across 13 years, cutting constantly between past and present to unravel the erotic web that connects the main trio while escalating the final match’s drama.

Guadagnino, who is gay, is well-equipped for the task as he shoots and directs his actors in a genuinely sexy way. Many scenes featuring Faist and O’Connor focus heavily on each’s absurdly muscular bodies (one sauna scene marks a particularly homoerotic moment between the two). 

Zendaya obviously stuns too, giving the film a deeply bisexual gaze that is utilised as a subtle reminder of what it takes physically to play tennis. Arousing shots of each actor often include visible injuries that embellish their athletic bodies, giving it more purpose than just eye-candy.

Faist, Zendaya and O’Connor (L-R) are all magnificent in ‘Challengers’. Source: Warner Brothers

Resultingly, tennis in the world of Challengers is a relationship between two people on opposite sides of the net. As the full extent of the narrative gradually unfolds by cutting between the final game and the history leading to it, each ball served and falling sweat droplet is a stressful question about who will win this tennis game, and what that means for the core trio of characters. 

Faist and O’Connor’s mesmerising chemistry assists with this, perfectly playing off of one another both in their early bond and eventual animosity towards one another. However, Zendaya as the calculating Tashi is the real highlight of the film; an excellent performance from her is no surprise for those in the know, but it’s refreshing to see her in an unashamedly adult role. 

Guadagnino’s usual flair for visual storytelling is cranked up to 11 in Challengers as he somehow makes tennis and talking equally exciting – even dialogue is a rally. Even so, the final match is especially enrapturing owing to utterly exciting movements of the camera. The pulsating, club-inspired soundtrack from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross is additionally instrumental to the vibe of the whole film; don’t be surprised when your foot involuntarily starts thumping when the music kicks in. 

All together, Challengers is as amorous as it is electrifying thanks to a dream pairing of actors and excellent work from Guadagnino behind the camera. Self-assured and sexy, this mix of tennis and romance shouldn’t be missed.


‘Challengers’ is playing in Australian theatres now.

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