review

Challengers review: Josh O’Connor steals charged threesome movie from Zendaya

Headshot of Wenlei Ma
Wenlei Ma
The Nightly
3 Min Read
The film starring Zendaya, Josh O’Connor and Mike Faist uses the intensity on the court as an obvious metaphor for the off-court dramas between three people caught in a love-hate triangle. 
The film starring Zendaya, Josh O’Connor and Mike Faist uses the intensity on the court as an obvious metaphor for the off-court dramas between three people caught in a love-hate triangle.  Credit: Niko Tavernise / Metro Goldwyn M/Niko Tavernise / Metro Goldwyn M

The grace and poise of Roger Federer may make tennis look like an effortless gentleman’s sport, but Luca Guadagnino’s Challengers makes it seem like a violent battlefield.

The film starring Zendaya, Josh O’Connor and Mike Faist uses the intensity on the court as an obvious metaphor for the off-court dramas between three people caught in a love-hate triangle.

As is lobbed and returned with ferocity between two opponents, it’s easy to see who, in that moment, is meant to be the ball. But it changes. Sometimes the point goes one way, and sometimes an unforced error puts victory within another’s reach. This is the thing with a threesome, the dynamic is always shifting, and someone always has more power than the other.

Sign up to The Nightly's newsletters.

Get the first look at the digital newspaper, curated daily stories and breaking headlines delivered to your inbox.

Email Us
By continuing you agree to our Terms and Privacy Policy.

When we meet Tashi (Zendaya), Patrick (O’Connor) and Art (Faist), Tashi and Art are married and he’s about to mount his comeback year after an injury sidelined him. He’s less than enthused about the chase but she, now his coach, won’t have it.

Sure, he can retire and work on the foundation, she tells him, or he can be a tennis player. She’s hard, and it’s more than just vicariously living through him after a career-ending injury put her out of action a decade earlier. The game is her life and her purpose.

C_00654_R Zendaya stars as Tashi and Josh OConnor as Patrick in director Luca Guadagninos CHALLENGERS  An Amazon MGM Studios film Photo credit: Niko Tavernise  2024 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Zendaya is also a producer on the film. Credit: Niko Tavernise/Niko Tavernise

In order to put him back in the right frame of mind, Tashi enters Art into a challengers tournament, a smaller stakes competition where he’s unlikely to face anyone he can’t beat. But then Patrick, who has floundered in the lower ranks, turns up.

The history between the three hangs over everything, slowly revealed through flashbacks from when Patrick and Art, then besties and doubles partners, met on the junior circuit, with both boys vying for her affection.

When Hollywood output is dominated by blockbusters, it’s rare to get a character-driven mid-budget cinema release that doesn’t have a strong plot but relies more on the performances and the writing to hook audiences in. So, it helps that director Luca Guadagnino (Call Me By Your Name), cast some of the hottest young actors who know how to hold your attention.

Challengers was originally slated for a September 2023 release but the actors’ strike at the time meant the cast wouldn’t have been able to promote it. And the hard-to-define film needs Zendaya’s star power to get viewers, especially her younger fans, to show up.

Challengers is in cinemas on April 18
Challengers stars Mike Faist, Zendaya and Josh O’Connor. Credit: Warner Bros

But despite Zendaya being the headline star and a producer, it’s O’Connor who steals the film. In O’Connor’s hands, Patrick is a wily chaos agent who knows exactly how to get under Tashi and Art’s skin, and he’s the one who always seems to be driving everything. His performance is truly magnetic, you just want more, more and more of O’Connor.

Patrick and Art is the real love story here, the closeness of their bond is at times homoerotic and the scenes pulse with real energy, so the underdeveloped Tashi often feels like the interloper. She even says she doesn’t want to be a homewrecker.

Guadagnino knows exactly how to shoot O’Connor and Faist together and you get the feeling he’s much more interested in their story than either of them with Tashi.

At its core, Challenges is a game of power plays between three people whose messed-up relationships with each other make for intoxicating viewing, even if the movie doesn’t always work. But at least it’s always gripping.

Rating: 3/5

Challengers is in cinemas from April 18

Comments

Latest Edition

The front page of The Nightly for 17-05-2024

Latest Edition

Edition Edition 17 May 202417 May 2024

Shadowy South American crime figure at centre of alleged gambling scandal that’s rocked Aussie sport.