Review: Challengers


I am not an athlete by any definition of the word. While I was growing up the most exposure I had to sports was at a summer camp where they made us play outdoor sports whether we liked it or not. Out of the myriad of sports that we did play, tennis was one that I think I was the best at. I never wanted to play it beyond my time at summer camp, but it was a simple enough sport to understand. If you’re going into Challengers expecting an in-depth sports movie about tennis, you’re going to be disappointed. That being said, if you’re going into Challengers expecting a riveting drama about three people who hate each other, you’re in luck!

While the film may be, on the surface, about a tennis match between two former best friends turned bitter rivals, the film is actually a look at the relationship between three former friends and how each of them is terrible to each other and actively makes each other’s lives worse. It goes without saying then that this makes for some excellent entertainment and as the film slowly built to its climax, made me all the more interested in what Challengers was trying to accomplish.

CHALLENGERS | Official Trailer 2

Director: Luca Guadagnino
Release Date: April 26, 2024 (Theatrical)
Rating: R

Challengers is primarily framed around a tennis match between two former best friends; Art Donaldson (Mike Faist), a pro tennis player who is in a bit of a rough patch and is considering retiring, and Patrick Zweig (Josh O’Connor), a washed-up tennis player who is still aspiring to make it big. The two friends grew up together and began to have their friendships frayed after meeting Tashi Duncan (Zendaya), a teen tennis prodigy that both of them start to lust over but suffers a career-ending injury while in college. The film will frequently cut between the game taking place in 2019 and all of the events leading up to it over the course of 13 years as we see the resentment all three feel for each other begin to build more and more until they’re let out on the court.

Challengers is a pressure cooker of a movie. While the film quickly establishes the match between Donaldson and Zweig, it doesn’t offer any context for the match at the outset. Instead, the film takes its time to set up the stakes as we slowly start to see just how important this match is for all three of the film’s protagonists. There’s a shift that takes place where, initially, I was more interested in the flashbacks than the climactic tennis match, but by the time we reach the end, I’m praying for the film to quickly wrap up its flashbacks so we can get back to the tennis game. At times, it’s a very well-structured movie and it’s clear that Guadagnino knows what he’s doing. This is, after all, the same director who made Call Me By Your Name.

I do think he gets a little bit too ambitious with certain scenes and segments. There are moments where the film’s editing and cinematography can be a little bit too much, like having a first-person perspective during the tennis match and frequently using slow-mo to a noticeable degree. There’s one scene in particular towards the end of the film that drags on and on thanks to the rampant slow-mo to the point where even the characters say to pick up the pace. I chalk up those weird moments more so to experimentation and trying to vary up certain sequences to make them appear more exciting than they are. It is tennis after all. There are only so many times you can show a game where a ball just goes back and forth for hours on end.

Review: Challengers

Copyright: MGM

But the core of the movie really isn’t about the match itself, but rather the characters. That shouldn’t be that much of a surprise, especially given how there are really only three characters in the film, but the dynamic between them is just so fascinating to watch. At first, we see Patrick, Art, and Tashi all as young tennis players who share a love for the sport, but it’s pretty clear that their love for the sport is borderline obsessive. They can’t think of anything else other than tennis and that self-destructive behavior starts to negatively affect all three of them. Tashi views anyone who can’t further her own desires as worthless and projects that view onto the men who supposedly love her. While I may not exactly be fond of her as an actress, this is Zendaya’s best role and shows that, when given the right material, she can be a forceful actress.

But for as much as Zendaya’s actions drive the narrative, the heart of the film lies with O’Connor and Faist’s performances. The only way I can describe these two guys is… well… they’re just bros. They clearly do care for each other even when they supposedly hate each other and even though they’ve both stabbed each other in the back in pursuit of what they want, they’re still there for each other. You want to see them give each other a hug and work out their differences, but you know that can’t happen because they’re too stubborn and self-centered on what they want to admit fault.

That’s true of all three of them. No one in Challengers comes across as likable, but that’s kind of the point. You can’t help but agree with all of the negative criticisms each of the characters lob at each other because we’ve seen through their actions that they deserve everything that happens to them. At the same time, this environment where you’re not really rooting for anyone does help serve the climax by making it truly unpredictable. You don’t want any of them to win, but at the same time, someone has to win that tennis game. How will that victory affect everyone, since it’s clear that despite this match being fairly unimportant in the grand scheme of things, it’s life or death for the people that are involved?

Review: Challengers

Copyright: MGM

Challengers is a movie that warrants a second viewing only so that the viewer can watch those early moments with the knowledge of why these characters all despise one another. It does help to make the earlier scenes a bit more interesting to watch. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have anything inherently bad to say about those opening moments when they’re teenagers, but at times they do come across as somewhat overbearing, laying it on thick how close they all are until they aren’t. For example, Tashi constantly calls herself a homewrecker in every scene she’s in during those early flashbacks and the film really lays on just how close Art and Patrick are. Once is fine, but when the first third of the film just constantly repeats these ideas, it does feel repetitive.

Outside of that narrative nitpick, the plot of Challengers is a damn strong one that’s supported by some great performances. Again, I’m not a fan of tennis in any way, shape, or form, but even I started to become interested in how the game was played. I think that despite the occasional missteps that Challengers makes in narrative, editing, and cinematography, this is a great romance disguised as a sports movie about two bros and the woman who divided them. That may be a gross oversimplification of what is, by all accounts, a really good film, but once you see it, you’ll understand.




Challengers is an engaging character piece about three people obsessed with tennis who all hate each other and it one of the most compelling wacthes of the year because of it.

Jesse Lab
The strange one. The one born and raised in New Jersey. The one who raves about anime. The one who will go to bat for DC Comics, animation, and every kind of dog. The one who is more than a tad bit odd. The Features Editor.