Challengers (2024) – Review by Andrea Carnevali

Challengers ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Tashi, a former tennis prodigy turned coach, turned her husband into a champion. But to overcome a losing streak, he needs to face his ex-best friend and Tashi’s ex-boyfriend. On in cinemas now.

This my third 5-stars review in row. Somebody might be thinking “Andrea is going soft”.

To be honest, a film like this is not even usually be my cup of tea: a love triangle, set against the world of competitive tennis? Mmm not so sure I’m that interested.

Well, thank God, I didn’t listen to my instincts, because I thought this was fantastic!!

Luca Guadagnino’s films have been a little bit of a hit and miss for me: I absolutely loved Call Me by Your Name (mainly because of Timothée Chalamet’ star-making performance) but hated his remake of Suspiria (To be honest I have never really liked the original either).

Bones and all was an interesting one, but a little bit “so-what?” too and in the end, it had left me a bit cold. As for his first film A bigger splash (2016), I found it insufferable. A film which mostly played on the stereotypical idea of what Italian upper class is like, but actually baring zero resemblance to reality (but “hey, as long as it looks good on screen”, somebody must have thought).

In this landscape, enters Challengers, fresh, sparkling and intense like very few things I’ve seen this year and with not one, but three incredible performances which didn’t just knock any comparison out of the park, but demanded attention!

You must be living under a rock if you haven’t noticed that Zendaya is basically the actress of the moment. And here you’ll be able to tell why. She is now a real movie star (surprisingly, this is only her first top-billing film).

Her highly sexualized beauty and magnetic presence in the film, are both intimidating and breath-taking. Her ability to be a skilled tennis player, a sexual fantasy for the boys, and a tough no-bullshit coach at each point in the film is second to none.

But despite her amazing turn and what the whole marketing campaign might make you believe, the film really belongs to the other two male characters. Mike Faist and Josh O’Connor are truly spectacular in the film and their chemistry is nothing short than electric.

Faist had already impressed us all in Spielberg’s West Side Story for which he had received an Bafta nomination (as well many other awards). I was also blown away by his sweetness and commanding presence when I saw him playing live on stage in Brokeback Mountain a few months ago.

This film reinforced my belief that he is really one of the best newcomers on the scene right now, and I’m sure we’ll be hearing more and more about him.

As for Josh O’Connor, his raw, intense, and incredibly nuanced performance in God’s Own Country back in 2017 felt genuinely authentic and was deeply moving. Though most people today will probably recognise him from the TV series The Crown, where he managed to bring depth and emotional heft to the role of Prince Charles, for which he was widely (and rightly) praised by critics.

I’m not that surprised to see him working so well here too. Indeed, the chemistry, the interaction and the incredible sexual tension between all three leads is what really sets this film apart.

But that’s not all, Guadagnino gives lift it all up even further with his vibrant, exciting and energetic film-making style. His camera during the various tennis matches seems on acid, always looking for a new perspective (there are a few shots which reminded me of the tennis match in Hitchcock’s Strangers of a Train). His editing is always sharp and enhances the tension.

Yes, the trailer may sell the more flamboyant and raunchy side of the film, but believe me, there’s so much more than that.

The script, written by first timer, Justin Kuritzkes, plays with chronology through a series of flashbacks. Each of them makes the relationships between the three characters richer and deeper, giving more and more weight to the tennis matches and pushing the emotions of the players (and the tension) to unbearable levels.

If I have one complaint, it would probably be that the music is mixed too loud at times making it quite hard to pick up all the words in the dialogue, but I’ve had so much fun with this that I’m willing to forgive it.

It’s wild, it’s an assault to the senses, it’s hot, it’s sexual, it’s rude, it’s sophisticated and it’s got one of the best pay offs I’ve ever seen in a movie (no spoiler please!).

Now I can’t wait to see how people will respond to it.

The film is out this Friday.

Andrea Carnevali is a Bafta winning film maker who lives in Chiswick, and a co-creator of the Chiswick In Film festival.

See all Andrea’s film reviews here: Film reviews by Andrea Carnevali

Chiswick In Film festival: Chiswick In Film festival 2023

See all the latest stories: Chiswick Calendar News & Features

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