“Challengers” Review | Strong Performances All Around

Zendaya seems to have struck Hollywood gold. Almost everything she touches is a hit in one form or another. Her latest starring role, Challengers, continues that tradition and could be her best film role yet. The marketing for the film is a little deceptive, but the end result is still well worth two hours in a movie theater.

Challengers follow three young tennis stars as their careers and personal relationships intertwine. Tashi (Zendaya) is a young tennis prodigy who enters into a pseudo-love triangle with up-and-coming tennis players Patrick Zweig (Josh O’Connor) and Art Donaldson (Mike Faist). While Mike and Josh have been friends since childhood, they don’t encounter Tashi until just before she and Mike go to college together, with Josh opting to instead start his professional career early.

As the film progresses, the challenges of a romantic triangle start to sour relationships, but this isn’t really about the steamy affair the marketing implied. While there is some of that, this is a character-driven story about the highs and lows of professional tennis. How careers start and end, and how those careers impact personal relationships.

Challengers, Josh Oconnor, mike faist, movie review, Zendaya

There have been a number of tennis films over the last few years, with King Arthur being the most notable. Challengers offers less on the tennis side of things, but far more from a character-driven story perspective. Zendaya, Faist, and O’Connor offer compelling performances that help the audience get invested in their interpersonal relationships. The tennis games become secondary, fading away into the canvas that supports their character arcs.

For Zendaya, this role doesn’t push her quite as far as her Rue Bennett role in HBO’s Euphoria, but she is certainly putting in work here. It’s up for debate as to whether or not she’ll be in Oscar contention, but if she does get a nomination, it won’t be a huge surprise. As Tashi grows up from a young high school-aged tennis player, into adulthood, Zendaya offers a nuanced performance that will have audiences divided on whether to root for her or despise her.

O’Connor and Faist don’t offer quite as riveting a performance as Zendaya, but they have great chemistry and screen presence. Starting off as childhood friends, their relationship evolves considerably throughout the film. Audiences will be heavily invested in both characters, due in no small part to O’Connor and Faist.

Challengers offer the feel of a sports biopic but with the writing and intrigue of a Hollywood drama. This is one of the rare films where the writing, directing, and cast all come together to make a bit of magic happen on screen. Even the marketing department brought their A-game, and while a little misleading, the trailers should get people in theaters to enjoy one of the best films of the year (so far).

About Challengers

Synopsis: Tashi, a former tennis prodigy turned coach is married to a champion on a losing streak. Her strategy for her husband’s redemption takes a surprising turn when he must face off against his former best friend and Tashi’s former boyfriend.

Director: Luca Guadagnino

Writer: Justin Kuritzkes

Stars: Zendaya, Mike Faist, Josh O’Connor

Rated: R

Runtime: 2 Hours, 11 Minutes

Releases: April 19, 2024

Bryan Dawson has been writing professionally since the age of 13. He started his career as a video game writer and has since worked for Random House, Prima Games, DirecTV, IGN, AOL, the British Government, and various other organizations. For GNN, Bryan taps into his passion for movies.

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