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  • Writer's pictureAidan Fronza

Challengers (2024)

Sex. Whether you like hearing it or not, it’s the root of everything. We all yearn for connection - sexual or not. In a scrutinizing world, unbroken intimacy can be nearly impossible. That being said, do we not all deserve to love, to feel, to hurt because of decisions we make, without right or wrong, just knowing that they are ours, that we own them, making us flawed but unwaveringly human? Such a question seems impossible to answer, but in Luca Guadagnino’s Challengers, answers are arbitrary. It is only with time, heartbreak, and most importantly, sex, that true feelings are uncovered. Or at least, feelings more true than the emotional masks we often cower behind. Oh wait. I almost forgot. All this is conducted around the sport of tennis. I know what you’re thinking. Tennis? The thing where you hit a tiny green ball back and forth with a racket? Yes, that tennis. Jokes aside, even I was slightly wary knowing this was the film’s crown jewel. But do not be mistaken. You’d be surprised how tense, how horny, screw it, how EROTIC, tennis can be. I know for sure I was. And, for better or worse, I walked out of the theater a changed man. Believe me when I say the best films will do that, even a sport with such a mild reputation its hard to imagine it so sexy. And it is. Sexy enough to make you wonder where films about obsessive athletic throuples have been all your life. The thing is, they’re not just obsessed with the high of winning, but with the vulnerable tension of competing with someone for the same thing, sometimes glory, sometimes revenge, mostly sex.

Zendaya as “Tashi”

All that being said, I’ll begin by just saying go see Challengers for yourself (link will take you to Fandango for available showings to buy tickets. If not already, click the top right to add your location or click “current location” to see available showings near you).

That out of the way, there are few things I want to discuss without giving too much away.

Like I hinted at, I think Guadagnino is a genius. His direction nearly surprised me at every turn and kept me constantly engaged. Only having seen 2017’s Call Me by Your Name, I highly anticipate watching for more of his filmography, of which I have wanted to for a while and even more so now. I am nearly as impressed by the film’s cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom. Not only does the film look gorgeous, but there are so many creative shots that were a breath of fresh air, simultaneously making my jaw drop more times than I could count. A longtime collaborator of Guadagnino’s, I also intend on seeing more of his work.

Guadagnino behind the scenes

Before I get into the acting, I just want to sing my praises (as if I have not enough) for the film’s electrifying soundtrack, composed by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. Icons for their critically acclaimed work on films like The Social Network, the duo’s techno tenacity is addicting. Their soundtrack enhances the already entrancing film to a whole new level.

Faist (left), Zendaya (center), O’Connor (right)

Now, the players. This is a film of three people, and three people only. Zendaya’s magnetic Tashi, Josh O’Connor’s charismatic Patrick Sweig, and Mike Faist’s boy-next-door Art Donaldson. It is hard to talk about them individually because they are inseparable to the story. Their relationship spans time and space, bleeding into the game of tennis they worship. Zendaya, who got her start in Disney of all places, rose to stardom in shows like Euphoria, and became an even more cultural icon in her portrayal as M.J. in the M.C.U.’s spider-man trilogy. Like many others, I re-fell in love with her as Chani in Denis Villeneuve’s Dune: Part Two (which I HIGHLY loved and recommend seeing in theaters or on v.o.d.), reprising her small role from Part One on a much larger scale. Like her many performances in such, Zendaya is wonderful. Her combination of poise and sensuality makes it hard to not love her, which the film takes advantage of in the best way possible. Through her performance, she cements her movie star reputation, and with a producing credit on the film, her future is looking brighter than the sun. As for O’Connor and Faist, they are the perfect supplement to Zendaya’s intoxication. O’Connor is a fairly new star, recently praised for his performance in Alice Rohrwache’s 2023 film La Chimera, which just hit theaters after an acclaimed festival circuit. The same can be said about Faist, who got his big break as Riff in Steven Speilberg’s 2021 Academy Award-winning West Side Story. The two are perfectly cast, having such great chemistry while also being juxtapositionally different in their approach to life, tennis, relationships, and… you guessed it, sex. Because in this film, to these competitors, all are the same prize. There’s not much more I say without spoiling too much, except I expect to see these already and future stars during awards season next year and many years to come.

Faist as “Art” (left), O’Connor as “Patrick” (right)

Lastly, on a more personal note, this film did something I truly didn’t expect. I have been an athlete most of my life. And like many athletes, I have had many falling outs with sports. Recently, I had my biggest one yet - to the point where I stopped considering myself an athlete. However, this film ignited something deep inside me that I didn’t really know was there anymore. I felt the tension of the sport displayed on the screen almost on an almost feral level. And yet, there are still many things that I don’t miss about being an athlete. But that competitive feeling of knowing that what you and someone else desire is the same thing, pushing to the limits not to win, but to feel. That I miss.

Zendaya (again) as “Tashi”

So, in essence, like many others, I think this is a film about competition. And sex. Lots of sex. But let’s face it, sex is fun, sex is entertaining, and most importantly, sex in Guadagnino’s films is uniquely human. Again, just watch the film for yourself. I could go all day, but I don’t know how much longer you want me to hear me talk about the sexual intricacies of tennis.

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Tony Fronza
Tony Fronza

What an amazing post! The writing is prolific and pure.

Aidan Fronza
Aidan Fronza

Thank you!

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