FILM | Challengers (2024)

Challengers (2024)
Directed by Luca Guadagnino

Last Friday night, I had the pleasure of watching Luca Guadagnino’s latest film, Challengers. Paired with some delicious snacks (although a few cold beers would have elevated the experience even more), it definitely made for a perfect Friday night. I don’t know about you (or the high school boys outside the cinema who called it weird), but I loved it. If I were to put it concisely, this film was like the daytime counterpart of Drive in the stylistic sense of it. And of course, because of the FIRE soundtrack.

Fans of Guadagnino’s previous works like Call Me By Your Name or Bones and All will recognize his signature soft and sensual style in this film. Yet, Challengers brings something new and refreshing to the table – a blend of Guadagnino’s classic coming-of-age approach with the intensity and pacing often found in sports movies. Guadagnino skillfully constructs a vibrant world centered around tennis, infused with Guadagnino’s soft color palette, pulsating electronic music, and a complex interplay of sexual tension and romance. While Challengers may not be as intricately layered or award-winning as some of the films I usually enjoy, in its own way, I’d still call this film iconic.

I’m a fan of Guadagnino’s work myself so I was definitely excited to see how he would interpret his style into a movie about sports, something I have not seen from him yet. So let me share my thoughts on the narrative first. To be honest, I was wondering in the first few minutes of the movie if this was just going to be as simple as a wife living vicariously through her superstar athlete husband that is losing interest in the game, but I was pleased that more complexity started to play in. I loved how the screenplay cuts seamlessly from past to present, slowly painting a picture of the actual complexity behind such a simple game in the present between two guys. The back stories really helped the world-building of this film, which was impressively done. And as the story’s pieces come together, you change whose side you initially thought you were on. Although, it’s pretty funny how Guadagnino still managed to add some gay tension somehow in the mix of it all.

As I always do, I LOVED the cinematography, the lighting, the color palette. Guadagnino never fails when it comes to soft and aesthetic colors. His films always have such beautiful soft daytime lighting, capturing that coming-of-age feel all the time. One thing different to his previous films would be the camera work – it has a blend of static shots and sudden dynamic movements to pick up the pace all of a sudden, most especially when games begin or tension starts to rise. This is accentuated even more in the final game, which was thrilling to watch with the sudden use of POV shots. This was a different kind of Guadagnino flavor, and such a treat at that.

The casting and acting were pretty great too. They all were beautiful eye candy on the screen. I’m a Zendaya fan so maybe I’m a bit biased. I did catch myself thinking about her Euphoria acting in some scenes. But to be honest, it wasn’t exactly her best performance and I think the “it girl” role could have totally been filled with another female lead and it still would have worked. Zendaya just fit the bill for the hype, I guess. It was actually Mike Faist (Art) and Josh O’Connor (Patrick) who actually impressed me more. Their authenticity in their delivery was lovely, I felt for both of them.

Now for my favorite part probably of the film, the soundtrack. I LOOOOOVE. I love me some electronic music in a daylight setting – how original. It may feel like some tracks come in unnecessarily but I thought it was a great way of adding pace and tension to the scenes. It’s also a way of relief for the viewers. I would say the soundtrack treatment reminded me of Drive.

This is a great light watch and I’m happy to be living in the age of Guadagnino cinema. MORE PLEASE!