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Luca Guadagnino's latest is another winning tangled romance

Luca Guadagnino’s films range from the murder thriller A Bigger Splash (2015), the throwback 1970s summer fling Call Me By Your Name (2017), and the cannibal horror film Bones and All (2022). All these films have a throughline of unconventional and complex romances engulfing and tangling the plot and pushing its characters. This pattern continues in his tennis drama, Challengers (2024).


Challengers takes place between 2009 to 2019, and follow a love triangle amongst tennis stars. Entangled are two best friends, the polite  Art Donaldson (Mike Faist) and the cocky Patrick Zweig (Josh O’Connor), as they pursue the affection of Tashi (Zendaya) throughout their careers.


Guadagnino crafts a gripping love triangle, with viewers’ allegiances switching around the three protagonists as we learn about their pasts. Like the best European directors, Guadagnino uses visual language to transmit characters’ emotions and motivations instead of dialogue. This leads to long drawn takes of the actors flitting through decisions. To capture it better, Guadagnino uses slow motion, though sometimes to a tiring degree, such as in the finale where a simply two point sequence is dragged out to nearly 10 minutes.


Guadagnino also provides a distinct and refreshing style to the sports drama, using inventive shots (such as one where the camera is the tennis ball), a techno soundtrack from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, and jumping chronology along the characters’ timeline and careers. This latter choice is at sometimes disorienting, but helps drive home the arcs that each of the trio has undergone. These stylistic choices also help elevate what on paper would otherwise have been a rather tacky and overcooked romance.


The central trio is brilliantly cast. O’Connor delivers a swaggering performance that contrasts with his Prince Charles in The Crown (2016-2023) showcasing a transformative range that had viewers lose themselves in his character. Faist, who broke through as a scene-stealer on Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story (2021) also brings about a completely different tone and performance to his quieter role. Zendaya brings a fine intensity and calculation to Tashi, albeit she continues to hold viewers at arm’s length in her performances, never fully letting us get too close to her. This works for her character, being someone who is pulling the strings, but it leads to a disconnect and lack of chemistry with the other two lead characters and makes the selling of the love triangle be more about physical attraction rather than romance.


Challengers is a gripping sports romance that while akin to a soap opera on paper, is heightened by Guadagnino’s style and its cast. Challengers rightly earns its entry into Guadagnino’s intricate romances filmography.



About Young Critic

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I've been writing on different version of this website since February of 2013. I originally founded the website in a film-buff phase in high school, but it has since continued through college and into my adult life. Young Critic may be getting older, but the love and passion for film is forever young. 

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