Challengers movie review & film summary (2024)

Zendaya stars as Tashi, a former teenage tennis pro in the mold of one of the Williams sisters whose career on the court is ended by an injury and pivots to become a manager. Her only client is her husband Art (Mike Faist, who played Riff in “West Side Story”), a nice guy who’s been a dominant force in men’s tennis for several years thanks in large part to Tashi’s guidance and loyalty. Unfortunately for them, Art is having an existential crisis when the story begins. Tashi gets the bright idea of having him enter a low-level championship match in hopes that he’ll reconnect with the energy that fueled him when she met him. 

But there’s a secret agenda here, one whose motivations and machinations we’re never entirely privy to: one of the players expected to appear at the match is Patrick (Josh O’Connor), a scruffy hustler who used to be best friends with Art until Tashi came between them. Like, literally came between them: one of many dazzling non-tennis showpieces in “Challengers” is a lengthy flashback scene wherein Tashi visits the motel room that the two guys are sharing, slinks onto the bed with them, and makes out with both men simultaneously, until the point where Art and Patrick, who are so close and physically comfortable with each other that they could be mistaken for lovers anyway, start making out with each other, and Tashi coolly withdraws from the tangle of bodies and watches what she’s delighted to realize is her own handiwork. 

What, exactly, drives Tashi? The movie lets us poke around the edges of her psychology but deliberately prevents us from getting enough of a glimpse at her emotional interior to draw some solid inferences. What drives Patrick, who realizes pretty early into the Art-finds-his-roots tournament that Tashi is there for him, too, and that there’s still powerful sexual energy between them, far more electric and obvious than what flows between Tashi and Art? We don’t quite know. It’s more feral than intellectual, their connection. What drives Art? Goodness, mostly. He’s a smart, decent guy, and you instinctively understand that he’s quite aware that there’s still some unspoken thing happening between Tashi and Patrick but that he’s decided to be grateful to have been the official “winner” of this relationship tournament and that the best strategy is to be confident in his wife’s love and loyalty.