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  • Writer's pictureRua Fay

"Challengers:" a Grade A Serve

In his nearly 25 year long career, Luca Guadagnino has proven himself to be one of the most captivating visionaries in the world of film. Every time he releases a new project, it's as if the world stops. He has proven time and time again that he is someone to look out for, and this year, he continues that strong legacy with Challengers. Despite only being released a few days ago, the film has already been met with rapturous applause from audiences everywhere, praising everything from the performances, to the screenplay, to the music. Let's take a look at why Challengers has captured everyone's attention.

On the surface, Challengers is an erotic sports drama about tennis. It first gained attention when the trailer was released, and Twitter had an absolute field day with it, especially with one particularly steamy scene that seemed to feature a threesome between the leads. Audiences were initially drawn to the small cast, consisting of Mike Faist, Josh O'Connor, and box-office darling, Zendaya. For the next ten months, audiences waited with baited breath for Challengers to arrive at a theater near them.

Written by Brown University alum, Justin Kuritzkes, Challengers centers around three key characters, lifelong friends, Art Donaldson (Faist) and Patrick Zweig, (O'Connor) and their mutual crush, Tashi Duncan (Zendaya), all world-class tennis players. It serves as Kuritzkes' first feature length screenplay. The story is told in a non-linear style, constantly jumping back and forth in time between the present-day Challenger game, and a decade earlier when the trio first crossed paths. It starts off feeling a bit disjointed, but eventually culminates in a truly satisfying ending that will leave you on the edge of your seat.

I have been aware of Challengers for about two years now, it was filmed in Boston, my home town, and I actually know a few people who starred as extras in it. Needless to say, I was very excited for it to premiere, despite not being the least bit interested in tennis, or sports in general. But I had no way of knowing just how incredible the film would end up being.

Challengers is a technically flawless film. It's easy to see just how much thought and effort went into everything, I couldn't help but be in awe. Frequent Guadagnino collaborator, Sayombhu Mukdeeprom acted as cinematographer and gave the film a truly incredible final look. At one point the camera takes on the point of view of a tennis ball being whacked back and forth between players, it's mind-blowing to look at and I still have no idea how they were able to accomplish that.

What got me the most excited for Challengers was hearing that it was going to be scored by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, two of my favorite film composers. Surprisingly, Challengers ended up having a soundtrack that heavily relies on techno beats and electronic music. The music further enforces the unique look and sound of the film, building suspense and tension every time it appears. The soundtrack is easily one of the project's strongest aspects.

Despite being an extremely impressive movie from a technical standpoint, Challengers is mostly driven by its performances. At no point in the story is attention directed away from the three main characters. It would not surprise me if all three garnered some award nominations next award season, especially Zendaya. Zendaya is the heart and soul of this film, she expertly plays the character of Tashi Duncan with unbelievable finesse. As a character, she toes the line between sympathetic and untouchable. She is manipulative, power-hungry, and you can't help but be in awe of her. Whenever she was on screen, I simply could not take my eyes off her.

Challengers is so much more than a sports drama. It's a technical masterpiece that tells a story of human nature, connection, rivalry, and competition. It's a feast for the senses, with no shortage of eye-candy for the casual viewer. Together, Luca Guadagnino and company were able to once again make something truly brilliant. And most impressive of all, they made me care about tennis.

One word can perfectly encapsulate my feelings on this masterpiece: Love.

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