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average rating is 4 out of 5


James Learoyd


Posted on:

Apr 29, 2024

Film Reviews
Directed by:
Luca Guadagnino
Written by:
Justin Kuritzkes
Zendaya, Mike Faist, Josh O'Connor

Love his work or otherwise, one must acknowledge that nobody is making films like Luca Guadagnino. His movies have always provided something uniquely reflective and, as many have pointed out, ‘sensual’; although he has never been known to limit himself genre-wise. Even in his ‘horror’ films – Suspiria (2018) and Bones and All (2022) - there’s maintained a level of wistfulness, or, at least, a stunning sense of humanity. He wants to draw our attention to the beautiful things in the world without needing to impose an extreme directorial sensibility... however, Challengers (2024) is something slightly different, proving to be audacious in every way, not least stylistically.


If perhaps you haven’t heard, this film stars Zendaya as Tashi, a skilled tennis player with a hold on two other tennis players – portrayed by Mike Faist and Josh O’Connor. The piece consists of an unconventional narrative, jumping back and forth, held together by a single climactic match which you can quickly infer holds all the stakes. You may expect this to be a picture about competing for a person’s affection, yet it proves to be something much more complex and fun than simply that. It is soap-opera-esque with many twists and turns; betrayal around every romantically or sexually charged corner. It’s a great time.


We’ve always been able to see Éric Rohmer’s influence over Guadagnino’s movies, though most unusually can it be identified in Challengers. The dynamics of our central love triangle can be compared to something like La Collectionneuse (1967) though with a focus on sport and the body over art or intellect. It's all about the characters. I’m sure this has, or will, quickly become the consensus, but this is Zendaya’s best performance. It’s kind of incredible; maybe even more incredible is the way in which a co-star like Mike Faist refuses to buckle under the weight of such a powerful, layered persona as Tashi - Faist more than holds his own as Art, by the end maybe the film’s most conflicted character.


One of the most enjoyable elements of the film is its unabashed love for melodramatic, heightened character moments – executed through Luca’s steady hand and the exhilarating new score by Reznor / Ross (immediately in the history books). Comparable to the iconic music for The Third Man (1949) -- not in any way for how it sounds (they’re pretty much diametrically opposed), but for the specific, unusual feeling it evokes: In Challengers, the score is saying, ‘Don’t take this too seriously’. It’s a beautifully tongue-in-cheek evocation, and quite bravely trusts the audience to follow its tone; quite unlike anything in Call Me by Your Name (2017), for instance, which is always sincere, earnest.


It’s phenomenal, and certainly in the conversation for being Guadagnino’s best movie... it probably is; although I’m a huge A Bigger Splash (2015) fan. I would highly recommend the film, if not just for the final scene, which is maybe the most stylistically expressive sequence Luca’s ever helmed. Very rarely do I sit in a cinema grinning not due to the content of a movie but because of how it was made – a level of cinematic kineticism not dissimilar from Mad Max: Fury Road (2015). I left the cinema beaming, and others will too.

About the Film Critic
James Learoyd
James Learoyd
Theatrical Release
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