Challengers Movie Review: Zendaya Transcends the Tennis World in Luca Guadagnino’s Eccentric and Deliberate New Film

Review: Luca Guadagnino directs one of his best movies with Challengers, which pairs his interests in yearning, miscalculated protagonists to the competitive world of tennis. It’s exhilarating and wild, with three prophetic performances from Zendaya, Mike Faist, and Josh O’Connor that’ll challenge many of the year’s best efforts.

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Zendaya as Tashi in Challengers (2024), directed by Luca Guadagnino

As a movie that echoes and resists her rise to stardom as an actress in fascinating ways, its hard to describe Zendaya in the new Luca Guadagnino-directed movie Challengers, which simultaneously asks and answers what win-at-all-costs does to a person, and how a deep-seeded hunger for success can drive a wedge in longstanding relationships.

And this wedge can start long before you know it. Whether it be months, years, or in the case of Challengers, a decade prior, a few fleeting moments can change your personal and professional career. A few lost sets in tennis and a twisted knee can have you watching from the sidelines, begging to play in a tournament you’ve spent your whole life preparing for.

That’s the case for Tashi (Zendaya, in a riveting performance that outdoes any performance of hers prior), whose tennis career is cut short following a painful injury while on the Stanford women’s team. She’s destined for the limelight, among the best in her own age group, and yet fate comes for her.

But so does Patrick and Art (Josh O’Connor and Mike Faist, respectively, transitioning from burgeoning talents into genuine stars here), and better yet, they’d do anything to grab the attention of Tashi – even jeopardize their own friendship.

And their friendship runs deep, from annihilating the competition in doubles tournaments to sharing many core memories (?) that I’ll leave them to describe in great detail. They’re seemingly inseparable as friends and competitors, until Tashi (a tragically self-described homewrecker) latches onto each.

Challengers marks another phenomenal release for Luca Guadagnino, who pulls out all the stops for what’ll surely be his highest grossing movie yet. It’s stylish beyond comprehension, ratcheting up the tension and flavor with one bassy, thumping Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross track after another, and a superb editing job from Marco Costa to match.

And what sets Challengers apart from many of the blockbusters we’re set to get in 2024 is its malleable depictions of competition and sex, friendships and the need to achieve your own definition of success. Tashi, Patrick, and Art all self-define what will make them happy in life – achieving the coveted Grand Slam in tennis, maintaining a level of financial stability, or raising a family – and the impossibility of those three all working out makes for a fascinating and unrelenting love triangle that I’m not sure I’ve ever seen before in a movie.

Luca Guadagnino sits Zendaya in the drivers seat for Challengers, with enough details and characterization to fully get the grasp of what makes her tick. Tashi is driven solely by the need to win, and that victory is instilled in her husband when her career is cut short. That drive, combined with conflicting emotions for her ex-boyfriend and his ex-best friend, is the story’s ultimate engine. She’s seemingly in full control of story, pulling the strings of both boys from the moment they meet her to the fateful tennis match that serves as the overarching event that pulls the entire movie together.

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I thought Challengers was undeniable, from melodrama that you simply can’t look away from, to star-making performances from everyone involved. It’s a clear three-hander that’s executed about as well as anything made in the 2020s, and Zendaya gets the awardsy script that perfectly pairs with her gravitational, star-studded energy – there’s little doubting what she’s capable of leaving the theater.

And the same goes for Josh O’Connor and Mike Faist, who pair younger and older versions of themselves perfectly, showing the cause-and-effects of a friendship torn apart because of the appeal and glamour of a successful life in tennis and with Tashi.

I’m fascinated to see where the Academy lands with Challengers, which feels all but destined to land Zendaya an Oscar nomination, but could also reward O’Connor and Faist for their contributions. It’s among my favorite movies so far in 2024 – a shot in the arm for mainstream moviegoing and a remarkable piece of filmmaking centered around relatively younger stars in the industry.

Luca Guadagnino directs one of his best movies with Challengers, which pairs his interests in yearning, miscalculated protagonists to the competitive world of tennis. It’s exhilarating and wild, with three prophetic performances that’ll challenge many of the year’s best efforts. This will surely be one of the 2024 movies that we revisit and reclaim years and years from now.

Best New Movie

Genre: Drama, Romance

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Challengers Cast and Credits

challengers movie 2024


Zendaya as Tashi

Mike Faist as Art

Josh O’Connor as Patrick


Director: Luca Guadagnino

Writer: Justin Kuritzkes

Cinematography: Sayombhu Mukdeeprom

Editor: Marco Costa

Composers: Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross

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