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The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

“Challengers” review: Competition is a dish best served in threes

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Yu Yu Blue

“Challengers” is director Luca Guadagnino’s latest trophy, one that any fan of his erotica-infused story mechanics will surely applaud for. An athlete of cinema in his own right, coming off the work of “Call Me By Your Name” in 2017 and “Bones and All” in 2022, what separates this story from the pack is more than just its athletic stature. This fable of love is a tale of three stars, who build their bonds off the bricks of seduction, but are ultimately powered by one goal: to win.

Headlined by Tashi, played by Zendaya, this fictional tennis prodigy attracts the attention of doubles duo Patrick Zweig and Art Donaldson, played respectively by Josh O’Conner and Mike Faist. After succumbing to an injury, Tashi finds a new way to dominate the game she loves.

Building a family with Donaldson, she coaches her spouse to a world renowned stature, living the career she never had through the lover she lives to control. In time, Donaldson’s talent begins to falter and in hopes of reviving his career, Tashi enters him into a low level tournament, where he faces off in a one on one tennis finale with Patrick.

The film is devoted to personal success and the complications it can bring which is ironically shaped by the teamwork actively carried out among the stars. Both Faist and O’Conner play young pups to Zendaya’s known and ever-growing stardom. There’s no question that Tashi is the core of the film. Look no further than the poster for proof. Either way, her power is only made possible by the lapdogs who insist upon her.

Both Zweig and Donaldson challenge their talent, reputation, and even their sexuality, so far as Tashi can stand guard between them like a puppet master holding the strings. Zendaya rises to this occasion by continuing to revamp her on-screen persona, shifting from a quirky, comic interest to something much more fierce. It’s as if in every scene, she is challenging the audience to a staredown. And she always wins. 

Guadagnino manages to make a sports romance more than just a one-sided affair. Dashing shots across a tennis court, layered with enough slow motion sweating to fill a swimming pool, you can’t help but feel intoxicated by the games at hand. But in keeping this pace, moments in the film begin to blur.

Centered around the central match between Zweing and Donaldson, the film favors a dynamic timeline, jumping from the present to the past at a nonstop rate. This technique being used to give context to the characters and their conditions, the entertainment of the film never wanes, but your understanding of time may fall behind as the story carries on. Partly salvaged by the film’s techno-esque theme, almost like its own personal whistle, whenever it is blown, the heat of the story starts to rise and once again, the challenge resumes. 

“Challengers” is a film that makes you feel romantic for sports while showing the athletics that go into managing a relationship, especially when it comes in threes. Tracked by a speeding plot made sound by the talent behind the camera, the film’s three stars await their signal. And on their mark, are ready to go, racing to a finish line of newfound stardom that will surely follow in the wake of this film’s reception. 

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